Charles E. Hires is best known as the originator of Hires Root Beer, a soft drink which gained great popularity in the 1870s. Hires began his career as a pharmacist and sold a variety of health remedies and flavoring extracts before introducing root beer as a healthful and refreshing alternative to beer.
He also sold ginger ale which was called champanale. While soft drinks were at the heart of his enterprise, he was a pioneer in manufacturing condensed milk and had factories in towns near dairy centers including Malvern, Pennsylvania. His Purock Water Company distributed spring water around the region and Hires water coolers were found in many Philadelphia area buildings. Hires’ sugar plantations in Cuba supplied his bottling plants around the country.
Hires is seen as one of the pioneers of modern advertising, using trade cards and then magazine, newspaper and radio advertising to sell his products. Hires Root Beer was a staple of most soda fountains and an item popular for home production.
Hires’ first wife was Clara Kate Smith, a Quaker lady, who was the mother of his six children. Their children attended local Quaker schools…his sons rode horseback to Haverford School. After 35 years of marriage, Clara died and Charles went through an agonizing period of grief.
After his second marriage to “Miss E,” Emma Waln, member of a prominent old Quaker family, Hires financed the restoration of Merion Friends Meeting, wrote a history of that historic house of worship, and was actively involved with Friends’ Central School’s move to Lower Merion Township.
Hires’ five children pursued various careers. His son Charles worked his way up through the company to become its president in 1923. His home was on Remington Road in Wynnewood. Harrison worked for the family company but also had a lively interest in the arts, writing several books of poetry. Son J. Edgar was an engineer and in the 1920s and 30s lived on Linwood Avenue in Ardmore. Next door lived his sister, Linda, a graduate of Wellesley who was trained as an architect. The youngest daughter, Clara, became a botanist.