This little tidbit from history was sent to me from Mark Dallmeyer, which I was able to track down:
The first soda dispenser in New York City was an aged
negro, Ben Austen, better known as “Old Ben,” who was
born a slave on the plantation of a Mr. Austen in North
Carolina. He was given his freedom at his master’s death and
came to New York and was married in 1836. In 1838 he
had his first experience in the soda-water business with John
Matthews. The elder Matthews at that time was established
at 55 Gold street, where he manufactured soda-water appara-
tus. Soon afterwards he undertook to make soda water with a
wooden generator, a gasometer and a pump. The gas passed
from the generator into the gasometer and was thence pumped
to the fountain. Two or three gasometerfuls was the foun-
tain charge, and “Old Ben’s” thumb applied to the fountain
cock was safety valve and pressure gauge alike. If the thumb
could hold its own against the pressure, more gas was pumped
into the fountain; if the thumb was forced from the open
cock, it was decided that the pressure was at least 150 pounds,
and the fountain was deemed charged.
“Old Ben” used to supply the city customers, and he began,
in 1839, the delivery of soda water to the Matthews clients.
As the business grew, an engine was installed and “Old Ben”
was made the fireman. Later he was again promoted and
put into the machine shop, where he used to assemble iron
fountains and coat the inside with paraffin. There is no
doubt that John Matthews obtained his idea of the pressure
gauge and safety cap for generators from “Old Ben’s’ thumb,
hence the space devoted to this ex-slave.
Such were the first uncertain steps of this typical American
During the Civil War draft riots, when angry Irish mobs roamed the New York streets seeking to hang any Negro they could find, Matthews was obliged to ship Ben out to safety in a packing case, as though he were a tank of the product.
This is a video with a gentleman from Argentina about seltzer in his country. He HAPPENED to be a contractor in my house and I showed him a new Argentinian siphon being sold in the U.S. which also JUST HAPPENED to be bottle with the waters from his home town, Bariloche.
H. Fox and Company was founded in 1900 and is best known for their U-bet chocolate syrup, known as an essential ingredient in any egg cream. Kelly Fox, who now runs H. Fox and Company with his dad, answers the question many people have: who is the little girl pictured on the bottle for the past 70 or so years.
This morning I met with the makers of U-bet chocolate syrup, Kelly Fox, who runs the 110 year old business with his dad, David Fox. He quite generously gave me his time and then gave me a tour of both the factory and the warehouse.
This past Monday I filmed Eli Miller, 78-year old seltzer man, reading from the children’s book starring him, created by a client. This was filmed right outside Gomberg’s Seltzer Works, where he gets his bottles filled. I didn’t ask him – he just did it and I grabbed my camera!
Eli Miller is 78 years old and has been delivering seltzer around New York City for 40 years. Today I had the honor of traveling with him on his route. A truly humbling, heart-warming, and moving experience. I look forward to posting some of the video and audio from the day but, until then, please enjoy these photos.
I happened to be celebrating July 4th today with my family at Old Richmond Town, the historic preservation on Staten Island. I was surprised and delighted to find, within their museum, a history of seltzer bottling and beer brewing on the island, starting out with this exhibit below. And they mentioned the conflict between the two industries, which is exactly the subject of the current section I have been laboring over this past month!
Note, this was a factory that manufactured not bottles (that was left to Europe) but the seltzer heads.
Big thanks to Maureen for turning me on to a new type of seltzer siphon inspired by Argentinian practices: the recycled plastic bottle converted to seltzer siphon.
From their site:
Bariloche is named after San Carlos de Bariloche which is a city in the province of Río Negro, Argentina, situated in the foothills of the Andes. The name Bariloche comes from the Mapudungun word Vuriloche meaning “people from behind the mountain” (furi = behind, che = people).
Bariloche is the only seltzer in the United States to come in a recyclable plastic siphon bottle. Since this bottle is never opened, the seltzer can stay fresh for months as opposed to a capped bottle which loses its carbonation within a few days of opening.
Bariloche comes in a 2 liter bottle and a case contains 6 bottles
Unlike traditional siphons, which you can only get direct from the handful of delivery men or bottling plants which remain, these can be purchased from stores, listed on their site.
If you drink Bariloche, please post a review!