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7Up

Claim:   The soft drink 7Up was named for the number of its ingredients.

LEGEND

Origins:   The power of the enigma lies in its ability to enthrall, to capture the imagination. As a society, we delight in the little mysteries that don't immediately yield up their 7Up answers, which is why products whose names we can't fathom hold their appeal.

One such product is 7Up. Though the soft drink itself is not the least bit mysterious, its name is. To this day, no one can swear to know the reason for that particular choice of moniker.

Here is what is known: 7Up was invented in October 1929 by Charles Leiper Grigg, a man who ten years earlier had formulated a carbonated orange-flavored drink ("Whistle") while working for an employer with whom he later had a falling out. Said contretemps led to his packing up and leaving, and in 1920 the employerless Grigg formed his own soft drink company, the Howdy Corporation to produce "Howdy," yet another orange-flavored soda.

Howdy was fairly successful as soft drinks go, but it was unable to seriously challenge Orange Crush, the leader in the field, and over time Howdy lost market share to its predominant rival. Rather than see his company die by inches, C.L. Grigg cast about for another sort of soda to broaden his company's consumer base.

Grigg discarded colas, root beers, and ginger ales in favor of a lemon-lime concoction. Although most every bottler was producing a lemon-lime drink in those
days, none of those sodas had achieved national prominence, a state of affairs that left a golden opportunity forlornly sitting there waiting to be noticed.

And Grigg noticed. In response, he invented the soda we now call 7Up.

However, the uncola wasn't known as 7Up for the first few years of its existence. It was originally christened "Bib-Label Lithiated Lemon-Lime Soda." In his formulation, Grigg had included lithia, a naturally-occurring substance found in minute quantities in bubbling waters fed by underground springs. (Lithia is better known as lithium, a drug used to even out mood swings.) Grigg had the notion that the chemical's presumed healthful aspects would be a selling point with the soda-buying public, hence the "Lithiated" in the name. As for "Bib-Label," it was Howdy Corporation's intent to use paper labels of the sort that could be dropped over the necks of otherwise unlabeled bottles.

Fortunately, the unwieldy name was soon morphed to "7Up Lithiated Lemon Soda," and in 1936 the soda was officially re-dubbed "7Up." That same year, the Howdy Corporation became the Seven-Up Company.

As to why "7Up," C.L. Grigg never explained how he came up with the cryptic name. Several theories exist about its origin:
  • 7Up was the product of seven ingredients. (Which, in a way, was at least true with regard to the classes of ingredients in that original formulation: sugar, carbonated water, essences of lemon and lime oils, citric acid, sodium citrate, and lithium citrate.)
  • "Seven Up" has seven letters. (This explanation is rather far-fetched, as it posits that the drink was named after itself.)
  • The beverage was originally sold in 7-ounce bottles. 7Up (Which it was. Then again, so was Orange Crush.)
  • Its inventor boasted the drink would cure mankind's "seven hangovers." (Grigg did make this statement, but it was rather tongue-in-cheek.)
  • Grigg saw cattle branded with a mark that resembled "7UP." Reasoning that if the brand was distinctive enough to help a rancher identify his cattle, the soft drink inventor concluded it would similarly work to help consumers remember his new lemon-lime beverage. (A former 7Up president and chairman did recount this anecdote in a 1942 speech, saying Grigg had read about the history of cow brands in a Sunday newspaper article, including one brand that consisted of a letter "u" on top and to the right of a number "7.")
  • Grigg won a great deal of money in a craps game thanks to all the sevens that were rolled that night. (Though oft repeated, little supports this tale. What money Grigg needed when he started the Howdy Corporation he obtained by bringing in moneyed partners.)
  • Grigg won a fortune at poker, thanks to the seventh "up" card dealt him. (The same reasons for disbelieving the craps explanation apply to the poker postulation.)
It's quite possible the drink's name was meant to be a enigma, given that its creator never publicly explained it. It could even have been a nonsense term meant to leave people wondering after its backstory as a way of generating interest in the beverage. (We humans do love mysteries, after all.)

Questions of how it came by its name aside, 7Up has attracted another origin rumor. Many trivia lists circulated on the Internet make the following claim:
The 'spot' on 7UP comes from its inventor who had red eyes. He was albino.
Charles Leiper Grigg wasn't an albino. In photographs (albeit black and white ones), Charles Leiper Grigg he appears normally pigmented, and we've yet to encounter a biography of him that makes any mention of his displaying traits of albinism. (By the way, though it is possible for an albino to have reddish or violet eyes, most people with that condition have blue eyes, and some have hazel or brown eyes.)

As to where the red dot in the beverage's logo came from, so far the earliest examples we've found of that design have come from the 1970s. Prior to that, the company's trademark for the longest time was a black-outlined white "7Up" on a red background that bore some white bubbles — the red dot was nowhere to be seen. In very early ads, the "7up" had wings.

Barbara "7Upswept" Mikkelson

Last updated:   13 January 2010

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Sources:

    Rodengen, Jeffrey.   The Legend of Dr. Pepper/7Up.
    Fort Lauderdale: Write Stuff Syndicate, 1995.   ISBN 0-945903-49-9.