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Throwback Thursday: Science Edition: Carbonated Water

Sparkling water, fizzy water, carbonated water – call it what you will, this is a beverage that splits opinions in today’s society! Welcome to this week’s Throwback Thursday, where we will be looking into carbonated water, who invented it and how it came to be. Whether it’s a delicious, refreshing beverage or something that tastes like TV static to you, it’s still an interesting journey. Let’s find out more…

Our journey starts in 1767 England, where Joseph Priestly was experimenting in a brewery in Leeds. Priestly suspended a bowl of water above a vat of beer, then dripped sulphuric acid over chalk that he had placed on top of the vat. This process infused the water with carbon dioxide, and in 1772, he released a paper describing the technique of ‘impregnating water with fixed air’. Lo and behold, carbonated water had been invented!

Priestly sat on his invention, yet it captured the imagination of a young German watchmaker who was living in Geneva, Switzerland. His name was Johann Jacob Schweppe (does this name ring a bell to you?). Schweppe worked on simplifying the carbonation process by using two common compounds, Sodium Bicarbonate and Tartaric Acid. After branding his process as the Geneva System, Schweppe left behind his days as a watchmaker and began mass producing sparkling water under the Schweppes brand name.

Schweppe moved his factory to London, where the beverage became a hit – even King William IV of England favoured the bubbles! The drink was initially targeted as a remedy drink, helping those with digestion issues and kidney disorders, but it soon swept the mainstream. Carbonated water even changed the way people drank alcoholic spirits, as traditionally they were consumed “neat” or “straight”. People could now add carbonated water to their spirits, making it easier and more socially acceptable to drink alcohol.

It wasn’t until 1835 that flavours were added to carbonated drinks, and once this happened, flavoured ‘fizzy’ beverages took Western culture by storm. This is when people got creative (enter Coca Cola). From humble beginnings in 1700s Leeds to a global staple, carbonated water has had quite the journey!