Del Conner Revisits American and Family History With Country's First Soda Pop

by Joe Greek on May 10, 2011
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In 1807, Dr. Philip Syng Physick, the “Father of American Surgery,” began prescribing artificially carbonated water to his Philadelphia patients as a remedy for upset stomachs. Physick later suggested to local pharmacist Townsend Speakman that he add fruit syrup to the remedy to make it more palate friendly. And the first American soda was born.

Unfortunately, Physick’s carbonated beverage never became a household name like Coca-Cola or Pepsi. And over the years, the story of America’s first soda slowly faded away into local history. Then, 200 years later, Physick’s great-great-great grandson, Del Conner, who restored the historic Physick House for public visitation and actually lives in the servant’s quarters, decided to revive the family’s story by establishing Dr. Physick’s Soda Pop.

Conner rediscovered a long-lost family burial marker in 2003

Conner with the burial marker of his great-great-great-great-great grandmother Elizabeth Syng, which he rediscovered in 2003.

“As a young boy growing up in Philadelphia, I knew about [Dr. Physick's soda], but never really made much about it until I realized that in 2007 the bicentennial was approaching,” Conner says. “I knew that I should do something to honor this lesser-known but great story of American history. So, I found the old formula and founded the company, and here we are making Dr. Physick’s Soda Pop more than two centuries later.”

Dr. Physick’s Soda Pop comes in a black cherry flavor, and following the original recipe, there is no high fructose corn syrup or caffeine.

Currently, Dr. Physick’s Soda Pop can be found in select locations around Philadelphia, including the Betsy Ross House and Franklin Fountain. And for individuals that want a taste of American history without having to drive across the country for it, Conner takes online orders.

Strangely, America’s first soda isn’t Conner’s only historical business venture. In 1979, he and friend Terry Polis started Pennsylvania Firebacks, Inc., creating cast-iron plates with ornamental designs that rest in the back of a fireplace to reflect heat or for decorative purpose.

For many early Americans, firebacks were essential during the harsh winter months. Until 1979, firebacks hadn’t been in production in America for more than 150 years. Since then, Conner and Polis have sold more than 50,000 and now offer more than 30 designs to choose from.

To Conner, his businesses serve a greater purpose than profit. They tell part of the story of the country.

“I am happy to be here keeping these traditions alive and building on them; bringing together loose fragments of some of these old untold stories,” Conner says. “But sometimes I do wish I could sit at a dinner table with Dr. Philip Syng, Ben Franklin, and a few others. Still, I certainly enjoy the benefit of all the great things they have left us today and not having to be there going through some of the hard struggles they had to go through.”

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