Vintage Corpus Christi: A Look at One Soda Jerk's Showmanship

Vintage Corpus Christi: A Look at One Soda Fountain’s Showmanship

Soda fountains were common sights across the country for decades, here's the story of one vintage Corpus Christi soda jerk's showmanship.

Famed photographer Russell Lee captured a soda jerk flipping ice cream into malted milkshakes at one Corpus Christi soda fountain, February 1939.

Famed photographer Russell Lee captured a soda jerk flipping ice cream into malted milkshakes, February 1939. Photo Credit: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Black-and-White Negatives

The invention of the soda fountain came long before this picture was taken in 1939. Back in the 1850s, when pharmacists would concoct drinks made with secret formulas to “cure” ailments, the soda fountain arose with inventions like Coca-Cola — sure to cure your heartburn and headaches. The opulence of the late 1800s led shops to install ornate soda fountains offering dozens of flavors to choose from, as well as sweet treats like ice cream.

Creativity in creating new beverages was strong during the Prohibition era — a time when soda fountains grew to be entrenched in American culture. During this time, Corpus Christi was experiencing a boom following the rebuilding after the 1919 hurricane and the building of the Port. Steady growth meant it was a perfect time to install soda fountains in many local department stores and drug stores around Corpus Christi. Whether it was stopping by the counter at Woolworth’s downtown or in later years grabbing a burger and malt at Hamlin Pharmacy, a visit to the soda fountain was commonplace for generations.

This picture captures a quintessential American moment at the soda fountain: the soda jerk wearing the stereotypical uniform, with fresh fruit, stacks of glassware and Borden’s Malted Milk on the counter — and most importantly, the jerk’s showmanship on full display, ready to wow his customers.

Looking for more Looking Back? Check out The Driscoll Hotel Serving Corpus Christi for Eighty Years or A New Year’s Day Swim: The Corpus Christi Tradition of a Yearly Plunge.