The History of Sparkling Water

Soda syphon

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post may be affiliate links.
This means if you click the link and buy the product, we receive an affiliate commission at no extra cost to you. Thanks for your support!

If you find yourself wondering who invented sparkling water, you might be surprised to learn that this fizzy beverage is naturally occurring. Many civilizations all over the globe have enjoyed some form of sparkling water since ancient times.

However, we manufacture most of the sparkling water that we consume today. It does not come from a natural source. So how was sparkling water invented?

The first person credited with a procedure for infusing water with carbon dioxide was English scientist Joseph Priestley in 1767. He began his experimental process by suspending a bowl of water over a fermentation vat. He then dripped sulphuric acid onto chalk over the top of the vat. The sulphuric acid reacted with the chalk to form carbon dioxide gas. The gas dissolved into the water, creating the carbonated water. In 1772, Priestley wrote a paper detailing the process of “impregnating water with fixed air.”

There is a bit more to the history of sparkling water — including its use by ancient people, the road to mass production, and its recent rise in popularity. Read on to discover more about the invention of sparkling water.

Naturally carbonated water at Manitou Springs

Naturally Occurring Sparkling Water

All over the world, there are natural springs where water carbonation takes place, aided by geothermal processes. Natural carbon dioxide is dissolved into spring water, along with minerals from the surrounding rock. The result is potable mineral water with unique flavor and distinct carbonation.

People have consumed this naturally carbonated water since at least the days of the Greek Empire in 323 BCE – 146 CE. Ancient people drank it for its purported natural healing properties and health benefits.

In the 1700s, enterprising Germans built spas and hotels around naturally occurring springs. Visitors enjoyed drinking and bathing in natural mineral waters.

Topo Chico modern sparkling water
Topo Chico – A modern brand of sparkling water

Health Benefits and Alleged Healing Properties

Because of its mineral content and carbonation, some people still believe that natural sparkling water acts as a natural treatment for indigestion. Enthusiasts often tout many other health benefits, including improved metabolism and weight management.

Europeans weren’t the only ones to claim medicinal value in sparkling water. Native Americans in the 1760s believed that natural springs in New York state had healing properties. Injured colonists during the Revolutionary war were brought to places like Saratoga Springs. There, they used the naturally carbonated spring water to aid in recovery from battle wounds.

Today, several brands of sparkling water source their water from natural springs. Topo Chico, for example, is extracts its wildly popular effervescent drink from a spring in northern Mexico. The alleged healing properties of sparkling water have become a part of the brand’s lore. The bottle features an image of an Aztec princess. Drinking and bathing in the natural mineral water supposedly permanently healed her of an illness.

The Origins of Man-Made Sparkling Water

Many scientists in the 1600s were curious about the natural process of carbonation. They sought to replicate the process with their own experiments.

In 1662, English scientist Christopher Merret created the first sparkling wine. He did so by adding an additional step to the fermentation process. Merret added more sugar after the initial fermentation of the wine for a second fermentation to produce carbonation.

However, the process of carbonation through fermentation is significantly different from carbonating water. That would not occur for almost another 80 years.

Old science equipment for water carbonation experiments
Some equipment used by Joseph Priestley in his water carbonation experiments

The Pioneers of Invented Sparkling Water

Joseph Priestley was technically not the first person to develop a method for carbonating water. In 1740, William Brownrigg, a scientist with a particular interest in carbon dioxide gas, was the first person to aerate water with gas. However, Brownrigg did not publish his findings. That means he was never given true credit for his role in the invention of sparkling water.

Priestley, who lived in Leeds, England was a clergyman, philosopher and scientist. He was inspired by Merret’s work, as well as his proximity to “fixed air” from the brewery next door to his home. Priestley began his experiments simply by suspending a bowl of water over a vat of brewing beer. To his delight, Priestley found that the water absorbed some of the carbonation.

Later, he attempted the experiment using chalk (calcium carbonate) and vitriol (sulphuric acid) with more impressive results. The carbon dioxide gas produced as a result of the stronger chemical reaction was infused into the water, creating carbonation. He found the invented sparkling water to have an enjoyable and tangy taste.

Swedish chemistry professor Torbern Bergman developed a similar process for manufacturing carbonated water in in 1771. He used calcium carbonate and sulphuric acid to similar effect.

Honing the Design for a Sparkling Water Apparatus

In 1772, Priestley demonstrated a carbonating apparatus to the College of Physicians in London. The new device featured a pump for “Impregnate Water with Fixed Air.” The original design was not received well and never went to market. However, it did spur other inventors to develop more advanced designs.

Interestingly, Priestley’s apparatus design did make its way onto two ships in the British navy. At the time, some people falsely believed carbonated water could be a viable prevention method for scurvy – a common disease at sea. Sailors found the design of the carbonating device, which featured the use of a pig’s bladder, to be impractical. Later, the likes of Antoine Lavoisier, a French nobleman and chemist, improved upon the design.

Later still, a Scottish physician named John Nooth would go on to develop a glass apparatus for carbonating water. This invention further paved the way for mass production.

Mass Production

Sparkling water saw a boom in the late eighteenth century, when Johann Jacob Schweppe created the first process for commercially producing manufactured carbonated water. The Swiss Schweppe quickly went from amateur scientist to founding the Schweppes Company in Geneva in 1783. Yes — this was the famous Schweppe’s brand that you might know today as a purveyor of tonic water, ginger ale and other soft drinks.

Schweppe simplified Priestley’s process by switching the active ingredients to sodium bicarbonate and tartaric acid. This process for manufacturing large amounts of sparkling water was called the Geneva System. The process helped bring sparkling water to a much broader audience.

From the beginning, manufacturers like Schweppes introduced flavors to their sparkling water products. Sodium was always the most prevalent addition, because it helped maintain the water’s flavor and carbonation over time. This led to people generically referring to the product as “soda.”

Over time, other names including seltzer, club soda, sparkling water and fizzy water caught on.

The Codd Bottle

As the process of creating carbonated water was honed, so was the bottling method. The Schweppes Company began using Codd bottles in 1872 – a glass bottle featuring a marble inside the neck. When fully carbonated, the pressure would push the marble to the top of the bottle, creating a strong seal.

To open the bottle, a drinker would use something called a wallop – a small wooden stake to press the marble down into the neck of the bottle. Children would often smash the bottles in order to retrieve the marbles inside. For this reason, you don’t see many of these antique bottles around today.

Soda syphon bottles

Sparkling Water at Home

The soda syphon, or seltzer bottle, was another historical leap toward the current state of sparkling water. First developed in France in 1829, it was a way for people to keep and dispense pressurized sparkling water at home. In the 1900s, delivery of these seltzer bottles was booming business in major cities like New York City.

In 1903, London gin distiller Guy Hugh Gilbey developed the first home carbonation machine. After over 100 years of minor tweaks and improvements, today, we have incredibly simple methods for making homemade sparkling water.

The modern SodaStream, for example, utilizes a CO2 gas cylinder and a satisfyingly simple pump action that would make Priestley’s jaw drop. There are even home carbonation systems that can turn your kitchen faucet into a sparkling water dispenser.

A Recent Rise in Popularity

Since sparkling water was first manufactured, it has fallen in and out of fashion several times. In the 2020s, it’s certainly popular. You can’t go to a barbecue or birthday party without seeing brands like LaCroix, Bubly or Topo Chico.

The canned and bottled sparkling water industry is worth nearly $30 billion. The category is expected to grow by over 12% through 2028.

The most popular brands of sparkling water in the United States offer huge varieties of flavors, most commonly fruit. Natural or artificial, these flavors make the bubbly beverage more palatable for a nation with a notoriously fierce sweet tooth.

One of the main reasons for this boom is because of a recent trend toward more health-conscious beverages. Sparkling water typically contains little or no sugar, though some may include artificial sweeteners. However, consumers should take note that some brands contain significantly more PFAS than others.

Former guzzlers of soda or beer often find that the effervescence of sparkling water satisfying. People frequently tout the beverage as a great help in kicking a sugar or alcohol addiction. Some even find themselves feeling like they’ve traded their old habit for an addiction to sparkling water.

Many Americans also struggle to drink enough water. Sparkling water has risen as a safe, healthy alternative to help keep people hydrated. And while you probably shouldn’t completely replace flat water with sparkling, it can be a great help for common health goals such as weight loss.

No matter your reason for drinking sparkling water, you are keeping yourself healthy and hydrated. Drinking water is just as important today as it was when Joseph Priestley invented sparkling water 250 years ago.