Edward Charles Edmond Barq was born in New Orleans’ Vieux Carre District in 1871. His French father died when Ed was only two-years old. His widowed mother headed to Nice, France, where she taught children of wealthy Americans. It was while in France that Ed learned the art of flavor chemistry from masters in Paris and Bordeaux.
To avoid French military service, Ed returned to New Orleans around 1890, and with his brother, Gaston, opened Barq’s Brothers Bottling Company in the French Quarter of New Orleans. He continued the business a few years after Gaston’s death.
In 1893, Ed won a gold medal at the Chicago World's Fair for one of his first soft drinks, Orangine.
After marriage to Elodie Graugnard in 1897, he moved to Biloxi, Mississippi. The beachfront city was known at that time as “The Seafood Capital of the World”. In the winter, he was employed as a chemist on Louisiana sugar plantations, and in the summer, he would return to Biloxi to bottle artesian water and experiment with his soda pop flavors.
Barq bottled and sold his first soft drink in Biloxi in 1898. His concoction was different from the popular soft drinks of the time. Barq's had more "bite" than other root beers, partly from a higher level of carbonation and partly from a lower sugar content. In addition, it didn't have the traditional foamy head.
Though he sometimes used archaic business practices, Barq proved that a diploma was not necessary to forge a soft drink company. He invested heavily in real estate and banks, bought a yacht, and even opened a car dealership in Pascagoula, Mississippi. But always his Biloxi sodas came first.
In 1931, at the urging of his son, Edward II, Barq was the first to break away from the traditional six and eight-ounce bottles. He convinced the Fabachers, a New Orleans brewery family, to sell him clear 12-ounce bottles that would give “a sense of satisfaction which comes with getting more of a good thing than the price seems to warrant.” The 12-ounce bottle price remained at five-cents for many years.
The first franchise came in 1934 with a Mobile, Alabama firm, soon followed by another one in New Orleans, Louisiana. Jesse Robinson, whom Barq had taken from a broken home and raised as his own son, operated the New Orleans plant. Barq helped launch him in the industry with special contracts to make the syrup himself. Because of Robinson’s success, many New Orleanians mistakenly think of Barq’s as their own hometown drink.
The drink’s popularity was unstoppable. By 1937, 62 bottling plants had been established in 22 states.
One of those franchises was given to Richard S. Tuttle, Sr. in Cincinnati, Ohio, who along with Hugh Carmichael and Albert Badanes, founded the Barq Bottling Company. Tuttle added red dye to the amber-colored Barq’s Crème Soda, creating what would soon become popular as “red pop”.
Soon thereafter, the parent company in Biloxi, where the root beer and crème soda concentrates were purchased, also began adding the dye.
The number of franchises peaked in 1950 to about 200. But by that time, the “root beer” had been forced to undergo changes.
One problem that came up during the 30s was regarding the name. The Hire’s Company sued Barq’s over the use of “Root Beer” in their name. Hire’s believed that they owned the rights to those words exclusively.
Another major change came for Barq’s in 1938 when the federal government banned caffeine in root beer. Barq simply changed the name of his drink to Barq’s Sr. and then set about developing a caffeine-free root beer.
When the government reversed its caffeine ban in 1960, Barq’s Sr. disappeared and the original recipe once again appeared, as root beer. There was much confusion as to what to call the drink. Barq’s Root Beer seemed the obvious choice, but it would not take long for Ed to gracefully straighten anyone out by saying, “Barq’s, son. Just Barq’s.”
Believing that the product would sell itself, advertising budgets remained small. The popular slogan, “Drink Barq’s. It’s Good” appeared on restaurant boards used to chalk up daily lunch specials and on pencils and rulers handed out to schoolchildren.
The blue and orange logo that appeared on clocks, thermometers and tin signs was never produced in large numbers, and the over-all promotion of Barq’s was quite small compared to other soft drinks such as Coca-Cola, Pepsi Cola and Dr. Pepper.
In 1976, John Koerner, shunning his family’s business in bakery supplies, together with John Oudt, an attorney, bought the company from the Barq’s family and moved the headquarters to New Orleans.
The pair took a regional brand with distribution in only a handful of markets, and using offbeat promotions and an ingenious expansion strategy, built Barq’s into the nation’s second most popular root beer. Barq’s, with its subsidiary, The Delaware Punch Company, became marketed both nationally and internationally.
The logo was also to undergo a change, from the familiar orange and blue to a logo bearing a silver background with the addition of the words, "Famous Olde Tyme Root Beer".
Koerner became so successful with Barq’s that he was named “Executive of the Year” by Beverage Industry magazine in 1994. He sold the company a year later.
On Thursday, March 26th, 1998, Coca-Cola traveled to Biloxi, Mississippi, to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Barq’s Root Beer. Mayor A. J. Holloway officially proclaimed the day "Barq's Root Beer Day" in Biloxi, and Barq's was formally named the "Official Root Beer of Biloxi" with a 100th Anniversary long-neck Barq’s bottle to commemorate the event.
Although Coca-Cola claims to have “purchased” Barq’s in July of 1995, the manager at the plant in Biloxi, Rick Suare, gave the last date of operations as April 15, 1983. According to Rick, the last two bottles to run that day through the equipment were a 12-ounce and a 32-ounce root beer, both of which he kept. He then added that Coca-Cola “moved” Barq’s to Mobile, Alabama, and closed the plant in Biloxi.
However, the special contract that Ed Barq had granted Jesse Robinson in the 30s made it necessary for Coca-Cola to purchase the syrup from Robinson in New Orleans. Coca-Cola obtained the rights to market and bottle Barq’s, but not to make the syrup.
Coca-Cola distributes Barq's in Louisiana under contract, but all the ads placed there by Coca-Cola also have 'Copyright Barq's Inc' along with the 'Copyright Coca-Cola'. This is different than what is found outside the area, where it only has the 'Copyright Coca-Cola'. The bottle used by Louisiana also differs, in that it bears a red logo.
Beverage Digest ranked Barq’s Root Beer among the top ten soft-drink brands for 2001, in a test conducted during the year 2000. Barq’s is among the other top ranking brands, such as: Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Mountain Dew, Dr Pepper, Sprite and 7Up.
One loyal consumer enjoys his Barq’s in what he calls a “Root Beer Fizz”. He mixes 2-ounces of gin, 1-ounce of freshly squeezed lemon juice, 1 teaspoon of confectioner’s sugar shaken with lots of ice. He then fills the glass the rest of the way with Barq’s and tops it with a maraschino cherry.
Now, that is not “just Barq’s” son, but it does have “bite”
Three different bottle logos used by Barq's.
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