Coke and Pepsi and their related products dominate the soda industry today, and bottled water is a staple in grocery stores. But, local bottled water in Whitewater dates to the 1880s, and flavored soda was bottled in Whitewater more than 100 years ago.
In the late 19th century, drinking bottled “mineral” or carbonated water for health reasons became a fad. Wisconsin was known for its high quality water and many bottling companies sprang up in the state, including in Whitewater. The first was the Whitewater Bottling Works, opened by H. R. Melster in the late 1880s in a frame building he constructed at what was then the north end of George Street. (At that time, George Street ended at Whitewater Creek.)
In the March, 1905 issue of the Wisconsin Industrial Review, the “Whitewater issue” that promoted the city’s businesses and industries, an article on H. R. Melster’s Whitewater bottling Works was included. The article stated that Melster bottled carbonated beverages including Sand Rock Mineral Water, Royal Aperient Splits (a laxative), and High Ball Ginger Ale.
Sometime between 1905 and 1912, Melster sold the company to H. J. and M. C. Schmitt, who changed the name to the Sand Rock Spring Company, but in the 1912 Whitewater city directory, the company was now listed as the Whitewater Bottling Works owned by Charles Klann. Shortly after that time, George Bobzin acquired the business and renamed it the Sand Rock Beverage Company. The Whitewater Historical Society’s museum has four early 20th century bottles embossed with “Sand Rock Spring (Company).”
Bobzin operated the bottling works at the end of George Street for 20 years, but the demand for bottled mineral water declined in the 1920s as the market for flavored soda increased. To meet this demand, in 1936, Bobzin built a modern 20x40 foot bottling plant at the north end of Wisconsin Street (near the intersection with Milwaukee Street). Bobzin moved his business to that location and remained the owner of the company until 1945.
In March of 1945, the company was acquired by A. W. Marhank and was known as the Marhank Beverage Company. It was in this post-World War II period that soda became a household staple, not just a rare treat. Two bottles in the museum’s collections are marked “Sand Rock Beverage Company” and “Marhank Beverage Company.” These bottles date to 1945-1951 when Marhank owned the business.
In 1951, Marhank sold the business to James Farchione. It is unclear how long soda was bottled in the mid-20th century, but things changed in the early 1960s. In 1958, Farchione sold the business to the Napier Beverage Company, and in 1963, the Napier Beverage Company moved to Milwaukee Street and began operating as a liquor store. The liquor store is still in operation as the Acorn Beverage store.
*If using this article, please cite, Carol Lohry Cartwright, “Sand Rock Beverages Quenched the Thirst of Local Residents for Many Years, 2015, Whitewater Historical Society website, Whitewater, WI.