Knapp’s Root Beer Extract had it’s origins with the druggist P B Knapp whose business dates back to 1839. Knapp ran a medicine warehouse at 362 Hudson Street where he sold proprietary medicines, both wholesale and retail. The business was listed in the 1847 NYC Directory at that address and remained there through at least the early 1930’s.
Originally called “Knapp’s Extract of Roots,” an 1876 advertisement in the American Journal of Pharmacy stated in part that it’s “the extract from which the popular beverage known as Knapp’s Root Beer is made.”
The advertisement stated that Knapp’s Root Beer Extract “has been well established for over 30 years” and advertisements in later years state “Sold since 1839.” This dates the product to right about the start of the business.
The first advertisement I could find for Knapp’s was in a July, 1859 edition of the Burlington (Vt) Daily Times. Apparently someone name H.N. Coon was making Root Beer from their extract and selling it in the ‘Irving Saloon.” That night you could have had a glass of Knapp’s Root Beer with your fresh lobster!
An 1863 advertisement in the New York Times stated:
One of the pleasantest and healthiest beverages known is made from the extract, and its invigorating qualities are such as to recommend it alike to the invalid, as well as those in the enjoyment of good health.
The advertisement went on to target a wide and varied audience.
Druggists, masters of vessels, hotel keepers, root beer makers, sutlers in the army and private families, etc. will find it to their advantage to use this invaluable compound, as it will insure to them at all times a healthy and delicious beverage.
Around 1883, the name of the product was modified from “Extract of Roots” to “Root Beer Extract” but continued to be advertised by P B Knapp (by this time it’s P B Knapp & Sons).
It’s around 1889 that their famous trademark “the genius of the bottle” began to appear in advertisements. One from the May 16, 1891 issue of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle pictured the trade mark and stated:
The genius of the bottle. He cheers but not inebriates. He is the genius of Knapp’s Root Beer Extract Bottle and the refreshing servant of all who wish for a glass of root beer in five minutes.
The above advertisement was certainly designed for appeal to the temperance movement. Two other 1891 advertisements, one from the May 21, 1891 issue of the NY Herald and another from the June 8, 1891 issue of the Port Jervis Evening Gazette serve to make the same point at the expense of Rip Van Winkle.
Hello, Rip Van Winkle! What a pity you don’t drink Root Beer made from Knapp’s Root Beer Extract; it doesn’t inebriate.
Do you remember how Joe Jefferson as Rip Van Winkle is constantly saying “may you live long and prosper.” Would have been better for Rip had he taken nothing stronger than beer made from Knapp’s Root Beer Extract.
Sometime in the early 1890’s, the manufacture and marketing of Knapp’s Root Beer Extract shifted from PB Knapp & Sons to the Knapp Extract Co.
The first listing for the Knapp Extract Co. that I can find is in the 1894 NYC Directory with an address of 168 Duane Street. They remained at this address until 1910, when they moved to 85 Warren Street. They remained listed at that address through 1912. During this period, there appears to be no connection between P B Knapp & Sons and the Knapp Extract Co. They both maintained different addresses and there were no common principals that I can identify.
Soon after 1912, the product was discontinued. The following notice appeared in the National Provisioner as well as several other publications:
About one hundred gross Knapp’s Root Beer Extract regular packages. Manufacture being discontinued. Send best cash offer. Knapp Extract Co., 554 W 183rd Street, New York.
I can’t find a listing for Knapp’s Extract Co for this address or time frame so I assume it was just rented space used for storage.
The Knapp Extract Co is no longer listed in the 1914 or 1915 NYC Directories.
So, how does one make root beer from root beer extract? Well, this 1893 advertisement touts that one bottle of the root beer extract, combined with 6 gallons of water, one cake of fresh compressed yeast and four pounds of granulated sugar makes 6 gallons of root beer. The advertisement goes on to state that that their root beer is the “most delicious, health-giving and invigorating drink” and suggests that it is a healthier alternative than ice water (4 lbs of sugar not withstanding!!!).
Today, the building at 168 Duane Street was built in 1910, so it looks like their 1910 move from Duane Street to Warren Street was necessitated by the demolition required to build the building that’s there today. The former footprint of 85 Warren Street is now part of 275 Greenwich Street, a modern structure.
The bottle I found is small, rectangular and mouth blown with the little genius trade mark embossed on it. Based on this I’d say it was made no earlier than 1889 and as late as 1912, the estimated end date of the product. The back of the bottle would have had a label similar to one I saw on E-Bay that is pictured below.