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Wash U professor digs into the fizzy history of 7UP, a St. Louis invention

A 7UP advertisement in the Saturday Evening Post magazine on May 29, 1948. No one knows the meaning behind 7UP’s brand name, says Washington University professor Ian Bogost.
Don O'Brien
No one knows the meaning behind 7UP’s brand name, says Washington University professor Ian Bogost.

Ian Bogost was looking for a Sprite for his daughter while on an Anheuser-Busch factory tour when he discovered PepsiCo’s new lemon-lime flavored soda, Starry (formerly known as Sierra Mist).

“I tasted it, and it was like, ‘Well, they all taste the same, [it’s] just lemon-lime soda.’ And then I realized I don't even really know what lemon-lime soda is or where it came from,” the Washington University professor said. “And that sent me down the rabbit hole.”

A 1958 7UP advertisement in an October 1958 edition of Readers Digest.
A 7UP advertisement in an October 1958 edition of Reader's Digest.

Bogost discovered that the first commercially successful lemon-lime soda, 7UP, was invented in St. Louis in the 1920s by Charles Leiper Grigg. 7UP became a nationally known brand by the 1930s and was made, in a number of ways, by the cultural and market forces of beer, water and Prohibition in the Gateway City.

“We already had a sophisticated beverage industry, mostly from beer … and there's a lot of water here,” Bogost said. “And of course, during Prohibition, everyone who made alcoholic products was scrambling to find any alternatives, so there was an opening to take advantage of some of the local expertise and resources.”

In his recent piece for the Atlantic, Bogost argues that “all soda is lemon-lime soda.” He joined St. Louis on the Air to share why he came to that conclusion and the little-known-facts that he learned about the sparkling citrus beverage.

Learn more about 7UP’s history, including one of its original ingredients (a prescription drug today), by listening to this St. Louis on the Air conversation on Apple Podcast, Spotify or Google Podcast or by clicking the play button below.

7UP soda was invented in St. Louis. Here’s its history

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is produced by Miya Norfleet, Emily Woodbury, Danny Wicentowski, Elaine Cha and Alex Heuer. Ulaa Kuziez is our production intern. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr. Send questions and comments about this story to talk@stlpr.org

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Emily is the senior producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.