Dr Pepper Museum reminds Waco of its unique flavor

Dr Pepper mural painted on the side of the museum is a new addition. Katie Long | Contributor

By Katie Long | Contributor

In 1885, Waco was the only place on earth you could get a Dr Pepper.

Pharmacist Charles C. Alderton invented Dr Pepper at the Old Corner Drug Store on the intersection of Fourth Street and Austin Avenue by mixing 23 unique flavors into one soft drink that was originally referred to as “a Waco.”

However, it was Wade Morrison, the owner of the Old Corner Drug Store, that gave the soft drink the name Dr Pepper. Many different legends surround the origin of the name.

“There’s a rumor he named it after his horse or a physician of Queen Elizabeth, or that he had fallen in love with the daughter of Dr Pepper and to win her hand in marriage he named this wonderful drink after the girl’s father,” Joy Summar-Smith, associate director of the Dr Pepper Museum, said.

Whatever the name’s origins, Dr Pepper has become an international icon and holds the title of the world’s oldest major soft drink.

To preserve Waco’s role in the history of the soft drink industry, the Dr Pepper Museum was founded in 1988 by W.W. “Foots” Clements and Wilton A. Lanning Jr. in a factory that once bottled the drink it now celebrates.

The Artisan Manufacturing and Bottling Co. bottled Dr Pepper in the museum’s original building throughout the early 20th century. The building survived the devastating tornado in 1953 and continued to bottle Dr Pepper until the 1960s, when soda cans became more popular than bottles.

“It’s just an iconic piece,” Summar-Smith said. “The other major soft drinks that are out there, like Coke and Pepsi, they don’t have an original building like this that they get to showcase like we get to showcase this one.”

Visitor attendance at the Dr Pepper Museum has more than doubled in the last year due to some major updates and the museum’s proximity to Magnolia.

“The introduction of the Silos to Waco has done amazing things,” Joy Summar-Smith said. “People will park downtown, they’ll walk over, they’ll walk around, and because the experience over there can be so short, they look for other things to do. They’ve been coming over here.”

The Dr Pepper Museum has taken their recent success as an opportunity to expand. On Memorial Day weekend of 2016, the museum opened its second building.

“Ever since they [Magnolia] opened up over there, we have seen such a drastic increase in people,” Visitor services coordinator Lauren Schlee said. “It’s hard to keep up. Every day there is something different.”

The museum’s new building features several new exhibits, such as a mock bottling line that demonstrates the soft drink bottling process.

“Having that bottling line, that was big for us,” Schlee said. “Having that kinetic element really grabs everyone’s attention. It’s wonderful.”

In addition to the bottling line, they recently opened a new “World’s Fair” exhibit in the original building on the second floor.

The Artisan Manufacturing and Bottling Co. building originally featured an original 1950s soda fountain and a gift shop near the entrance of the museum.

When the new building opened, the soda fountain and gift shop were moved, leaving space for new exhibits on the first and second floors.

“There are plans underway,” Schlee said. “Whenever this building opened, we knew, the museum knew, that what we were leaving in the other building had to be taken care of. We can’t just all move into this building.”

Presently, those areas of the museum are under construction and will soon feature new displays. The museum is only able to put out a fraction of the pieces they have, and the rest is kept in storage. Now, they are being given a chance to display new material.

“We realize that we can’t just keep doing the same thing over and over again, because then no one will want to come back,” Schlee said. “You can probably come back once every year around the same time and you are going to see something different. It’s never going to 100 percent be the same.”

The museum studies department at Baylor is helping the Dr Pepper Museum develop some of these new exhibits, and the museum already features several displays that students have helped put together.

Summar-Smith, who received her master’s degree in museum studies at Baylor, is coming back to Baylor to teach the exhibits class this fall as they assemble a new display to explain how the Dr Pepper-Snapple Group acquired other soft drink brands.

“There’s a lot more to it, so we have a lot more in our exhibits than just Dr Pepper and people are always wondering why that is,” Summar-Smith said. “We’re hoping with this exhibit they’ll get a little bit of an explanation of why that is they see 7UP, RC, and lots of other brands in the exhibits.”

Like Summar-Smith, several Baylor alumni who were in the museum studies program at Baylor now work at the Dr Pepper Museum.

“I also went to Baylor,” Stephanie Martinez, public programs manager, said. “When you do museum studies, you volunteer or intern at the local museums. I actually started here as an intern when I was a senior. That’s pretty much all of our stories.”

Now they get to interact with present-day Baylor students who visit the museum and share their passion.

“It [visiting the Dr Pepper Museum] seemed like a classic Waco thing to do,” Laura Cook, junior, said. “It felt like something I should do before I graduated. It was kind of interesting to learn about the bottling process.”

In addition to the acquisition of new exhibits, the Dr Pepper Museum hosts several events throughout the year to keep the interest of the public.

This year they hosted their first ever Dr Pepper Museum After Dark Event on October 30th, where they turned off all the lights at the museum and told stories of evidence found by paranormal investigators.

For Summar-Smith, it was one of the most exciting events the Dr Pepper Museum has hosted because it appealed to a different audience than their typical events.

“Of course, that’s the point to get a little creeped out, but at the same time showcase a very unique, interesting part of Waco history that should make every Wacoan proud that this drink started here in just a teeny tiny little pharmacy and is now a national and international iconic beverage,” Summar-Smith said.

The evidence of paranormal activity included videos of flashing lights and a voice recording of a woman at a time where the museum was supposed to be empty.

“It was kind of interesting to be in the museum after dark, because it gives you a super creepy feeling that you don’t get when the lights are on,” Julia Vergara, sophomore, said.

Typically, the museum hosts events that are “big on family fun” and the 11th annual “A Dr Pepper Christmas” is one of those events coming up soon, Schlee said.