History of Soda Pop in Detroit, Including Vernor's and Faygo

Detroit is home to Faygo
••• Photo © Angie Linder (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Detroiters know it as “pop,” but there are those from other locales that cringe and irritably add “soda” in correction. As it turns out, however, Detroit has a unique relationship with the carbonated brew that arguably gives the city naming rights.

The First Soda Pop

According to at least one source -- Food Reference -- Vernors Ginger Ale was the nation's first soda pop, and it was discovered by accident in Detroit.

As the story goes, James Vernor, a clerk in a drug store in Detroit, was experimenting with a recipe to make his own Ginger Ale, a non-alcoholic version of Ginger Beer imported from Ireland. When he went off to fight in the Civil War in 1962, he stored his experimental Ginger Ale in an oak cask. When he returned at war's end, he sampled the now aged brew and knew he was on to something. He started selling it out of the soda fountain in his own Woodward Avenue drug store in 1866.

The Term "Pop"

"Pop" is a term either used alone or teamed with soda to describe soft drinks/carbonated beverages. It was coined by Faygo, another Detroit-based bottling company, after the sound the lid made when it popped off the soda bottle.

Faygo History in Detroit

Bakers Ben and Perry Feigenson, Russian immigrants, first experimented in using their frosting flavors in sodas in 1907. First known as Feigenson Brothers Bottling Works, the brothers changed the name to Faygo in 1921 and used a Ford truck to deliver door to door.

Faygo bottle works started off in a plant on Benton Street but moved to Gratiot Avenue in 1935, where it remains today. Despite its popularity in Detroit and Michigan, Faygo pop didn't become "pop"ular nationally until the 1960s, when a new water filtration system at the plant improved its shelf life.

The Boat Song, featured in 1970s commercials for Faygo, remains in the hearts of Detroiters to this day. It was actually called Remember When You Were a Kid?, written by Ed Labunaki, and originally sung for Faygo by Kenny Karen:

Comic books and rubber bands

Climb into the tree top

Falling down and holding hands

Tricycles and Redpop

Faygo Flavors

Faygo brought more than just the "pop" to the soft-drink industry. Faygo is known for its host of flavors, including RedPop and Rock'n'Rye, as well as its relatively cheap prices. These days flavors number over 50. In addition to diet flavors, other flavors include Root Beer, Cotton Candy, Orange, Candy Apple, Moon Mist, Creme Soda, 60/40, Black Cherry, Peach, Dr. Faygo, Gold, Twist, Pineapple Watermelon, Pineapple Orange, Jazzin' Blues Berry, Raspberry Blueberry, Fruit Punch, Ohana Punch, Ohana Kiwi, and Sparkling Grapefruit -- just to name a few. 

Sources

The History of Vernors Ginger Ale / Great Lake Dweller Blog

Faygo / DetroitHistorical.org