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Innovation and Entrepreneurship

225 years of Tar Heels: Caleb Bradham

A pharmacist in New Bern, Caleb Bradham had a $1 million company on his hands when he launched Pepsi-Cola in 1898.

Caleb Bradham
Photo Courtesy Lula M. Disosway Papers, Joyner Library, East Carolina University.

225 Years.Editor’s note: In honor of the University’s 225th anniversary, we will be sharing profiles throughout the academic year of some of the many Tar Heels who have left their heelprint on the campus, their communities, the state, the nation and the world.

One of Pepsi’s most recent slogans is “Born in the Carolinas.” More than that, the man behind the popular soft drink, Caleb Bradham, was also born in the Carolinas.

Bradham was raised in Chinquapin, North Carolina and enrolled at UNC-Chapel Hill in 1886 before becoming a pharmacist in New Bern.

Bradham enjoyed making both medicines and beverages, so when he opened his own pharmacy, it included an in-store soda fountain. Before Pepsi became what it is today, it was known as “Brad’s Drink,” a staple of his pharmacy believed to aid digestion and ease an upset stomach. He renamed the beverage to Pepsi-Cola in 1898, and by 1915, Bradham had a $1 million company on his hands.

After World War I, however, supplies like sugar were expensive and by 1923, Pepsi-Cola Co. declared bankruptcy. A Wall Street banker purchased the company for $30,000.

Bradham continued to support Carolina. He sponsored the Bradham Prize for scholarship at the UNC School of Pharmacy until 1930.