Favorite American foods have a history all their own. Here are some fascinating facts.
By Letitia L. Star

Did you know that many of today's popular soft drinks were originally sold as health tonics in America's drugstores? Or, did you ever wonder if there's anything French about the French fries we eat here in America or how hot dogs and hamburgers became so popular?

Here are some fascinating facts about some of America's all-time favorite foods - like why we started putting apples in our pies.

The Soda Pop Story

More than a century ago, pharmacists first created and sold sodas as health tonics at soda fountains in America's drugstores. For example, ginger ale contained real ginger, a common remedy for digestive problems.

"Pharmacists prescribed and administered soda water to their clients," says Gyvel Young- Witzel , co--author of "Soda Pop! From Miracle Medicine to Pop Culture." " That's because early additives to soda water were viewed as medicine."

In 1886, Coca-Cola was invented to serve as a daytime pick-me-up by pharmacist John Styth Pemberton, who created other successful compounds including Triplex Liver Pills and Flower Cough Syrup. "Coca-Cola was origi-nally marketed to relieve headaches and as a brain tonic," Young- Witzel says.

Pepsi-Cola was created by phar-macist Caleb Bradham to help cus-tomers calm their stomachs with extracts of cola nut and pepsin, a digestive enzyme, she adds. "Brad's drink" quickly became a favorite in his drugstore in New Bern , N.C.

Belgian Fries?

The next time you enjoy French fries, remember that Thomas Jefferson originally brought the recipe from France for potatoes " frenched " into long lengths and deep-fried.

" Jefferson was served pommes frites while minister to France ," says Elaine Corn, author of "As American as Apple Pie." "He then served pota-toes - in the French manner - to his guests in Monticello ." A French fry recipe appears in an 1824 cook-book, "The Virginia Housewife," written by Jefferson 's descendent Mary Randolph.

But did France actually create the first "fries?" Not according to Corn, who says Belgium claims that honor. If it hadn't been for American Gls stationed in France during World War I, who ate fries and coined the term French fries, we'd be eating Bel-gian fries, she says. "However, Amer-ican ingenuity created the tech-nology to mass produce French fries and make them a staple of the Amer-ican table," says Corn.

Although American colonists made "common patties," the most likely ancestor of the American hamburger, the idea actually came from immi-grants who sailed on the "Hamburg- Amerika " ship line in the 1850s, Corn relates. Their version of broiled meat patties was known as a Ham-burg-style steak, and its popularity soared after its formal introduction at the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair.

As for hot dogs, we'll enjoy 150 million on our nation's birthday and 27.5 million in major league ball-parks around the country. That's enough to stretch from Baltimore to Los Angeles .

How did the hot dog become so popular? "German immigrants brought sausages with them to America ," explains Janet Riley of the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council. The term "hot dog" may have started out as a joke about the Germans' long, thin dachshund dogs, she says. Frankfurters were called "little dog" or "dachshund" sausages. "The term 'wiener' comes from ' Vienna ' which is spelled ' Wien ' in German," Riley adds.

The hot dog's popularity is due to its convenience as a finger food. By the 1890s the hot dog craze had swept college campuses. In 1894, "dog wagons" sold hot dogs to hun-gry students in Yale dorms. As for the hot dog bun, according to one leg-end, it was designed by a baker for a vendor who couldn't retrieve all the white gloves he loaned out to cus-tomers holding steaming hot "dachs-hund" sausages.

Always On Sundae?

In 1874, Evanston , Ill. , passed an ordinance banning ice cream soda sales on Sunday. "Because of its carbonation, soda water was considered too tingling and exciting for Sunday consumption," says Leslie Goddard of the Evanston Historical Society. One local druggist, William Garwood, made more money selling ice cream sodas at five cents each than from his entire stock of drugs. "So, to get around the law, he simply removed the soda water and served ice cream and flavored sauce," she says. "The spelling was most likely changed from 'Sunday' to 'sundae' to be reverential."

Interestingly, Garwood also may have provided the first drive-up service in Illinois - if not the nation. "Customers pulled up in their horse-drawn buggies, rang a curb-side bell and waiters came out and took orders," Goddard relates.

But at least four other communi-ties proclaim to be the home of the sundae, Goddard says. One is Ithaca , N.Y. , where the story goes that the sundae was created in 1892 in the C.C. Platt Drugstore. "According to their story, Platt served plain ice cream to a local minister. On a whim, he added cherry syrup and a candy cherry," Goddard explains. "The minister loved it and named it after the day when it was invented."

Just Like Mom

Europeans had been eating pies - including fruit pies - since the 1400s. Sugar had been relatively scarce in America , but once supplies improved, the Old World pie was revived with American apple vari eties, says Corn. Eventually, apple pie became a symbol of American pros-perity , according to the U.S. Apple Association.

"No pie-eating people can be permanently vanquished," stated one American newspaper in 1902. To this day, "no other country eats as many apple pies as we do," Corn says.

No matter how you slice it, it was American genius that transformed many European foods into our own unique cuisine. As a result, our favorite foods will be always linked with American culture throughout the world.

GEICO Direct Magazine, Fall 2005, pages 32-33