150 years of American pharmacy: The rise and fall of the pharmacy soda fountain

For more than a century the soda fountain became a mainstay in community pharmacies, before falling on hard times.

In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, some pharmacies began to offer carbonated "soda water" for its perceived medicinal value. Although the 1831 edition of U.S. Pharmacopeia no longer included soda water, it nevertheless continued to be served at specially designed fountains in a growing number of pharmacies. "The soda fountain came into its own in the 1880s as a social institution," argued historian Glenn Sonnedecker.

To be sure, by the 1950s soda fountains had become a pharmacy fixture. Drug Topics had a special section on fountain management, which in an Aug. 13, 1951, column touted the cranberry chiffon pie and the advantages of square bays, which "give the fountain of the Albright & Wood Drug Store ... Gulfport, Miss., a neat and smartly attractive appearance."

Within a decade, however, soda fountains began a rapid decline. As fast-food chain restaurants spread and bottled soda became more widely available, pharmacies began to remove their fountains. By the 1970s, fewer than a third of pharmacies had fountains. While a few pharmacies still have fountains, what was once the center of the pharmacy-and many communities-has been relegated to a place of nostalgia for a bygone era.