The Innovation of Carbonated Water

One thing I take for granted is carbonation. I love my pop, so much so that at times I would call it a minor addiction. When I was looking into innovative ideas, I realized that I should not just assume that carbonation has been around forever, or is even natural. I do know that CO2 does occur during fermentation, but I was interested in finding out more about how carbonated water came about, since it is something I rely so heavily on.



Source. Joseph Priestley

Joseph Priestley. Source


Soda water takes its inspiration from natural mineral water originating from volcanic springs, which was seen to have medicinal powers, as bathing in its waters was seen as a restorative (Source 1, Source 2).  The bubbles found in this water were soon linked to carbon dioxide, coming from the minerals found in it. While drinkable, this water was not readily available to the public, because most people did not live near volcanos, or they did not have the means to have bottles shipped to their homes. It wasn’t until 1767 that manmade carbonated water was produced by Joseph Priestly, who was a chemist in England, and who ended up writing a paper titled Impregnating Water with Fixed Air (Source)[1]. While soft drinks had been around since the 1600s, there were still drinks, such as lemonade, nothing resembling the waters found in the mineral springs (Source).

Johann Jacob Schweppe Source

Johann Jacob Schweppe

After Priestley’s discovery, others followed suit, including Johann Jacob Schweppe, who took Priestley’s process and simplified it by figuring out that carbonation can be produced through baking soda and an acid. Schweppe went even further than this, and established his own company, Schweppes, which is still around today and one of the top producers of carbonated water in the world (Source). Despite this unnatural creation of carbonated water, the drink stayed true to its roots and was marketed as a medicinal remedy, although it lacked all healing properties of its predecessor, it at least managed to keep its drinker hydrated.

This discovery was an innovative process because it took something from nature and was able to create an unnatural, but more accessible version. While lacking the original health benefits, Priestley was able to give everyone access to a sought after product. Plus, the many uses and variations of carbonated water over the years keep it relevant, and this process is behind some of the most popular drinks on the market today.

Source. Priestley's original drawing on how to add carbonation to water

Priestley’s original drawing on how to add carbonation to water

How it’s done

The first carbonated water did indeed get its carbonation through fermentation process, but not because yeast or sugar was adding to the liquid. Instead, Priestly hung a container of water over a fermentation vat, and was able to infuse the water with bubbles, creating soda water. In his paper Impregnating Water with Fixed Air, Priestly describes another way of adding CO2 to water by pouring sulfuric acid onto chalk, which produces carbon dioxide, and then this gas is added to water.




Importance and Effect

A huge chunk of the food industry centers on carbonated water. While it does seem like a lowly drink (because who really wants to drink plain Club Soda?), it is the base of many of the top drinks in the world today. As well, even though it may not have the same healing properties as natural volcanic spring waters, drinking plain soda water is often seen as medicine, as it can often ease the pain of the flu, heartburn and stomach aches.

As already stated, I love drinking pop, but I’ve realized that one of my favourite things about this type of drink is the bubbles and fizz, which are all down to Joseph Priestley’s experimentation. While this innovation may not be as helpful as the modern oven, forks or canning, it is something that has remained relevant in our world today, and it is something that is now taken for granted. An entire type of drink links back to Priestly, from the mass produced Coca-Cola drinks, to the new Soda Stream Machines, and hipster variations of soda pop. Priestly may never have commercially produced his product, but his innovation has led to one of the main money making products today.


[1] Joseph Priestly was much more than the person who discovered how to create soda water. He also was a clergyman, whose English home was burned after he was found to be in support of the French Revolution. He moved to the United States and became friends with Benjamin Franklin, likely because both were looking into this thing called electricity. He also helped discover oxygen! He was the first one to successfully prove that combustion needed oxygen to happen, and, along with Carl Scheele, was able to isolate oxygen as a molecule. He also was the first to identify hydrochloric acid, nitrous oxide, carbon monoxide and sulfur dioxide. Finally, because apparently this man had not done enough, he also created the eraser, after realizing that Indian gum was able to wipe off marks from a pencil. So, suffice to say, Joseph Priestly did many more great things for our world than discover the process of carbonating water! (Source)