Encyclopedia Of Detroit

Vernor, James

James Vernor, Sr. was an American pharmacist, druggist, and American Civil War Lieutenant who became famous for the invention of Vernor’s Ginger Ale. Born on April 11, 1843 in Albany, New York, Vernor moved to Detroit, Michigan with his parents during his youth. As an employee at Higby and Sterns’ Drug Store in Detroit, Vernor began to experiment with flavors in an attempt to create a new recipe for ginger ale. With the onset of the American Civil War, he enlisted and served with the 4th Michigan Cavalry in 1862. Serving in the military until 1865, Vernor became a Second Lieutenant before being discharged.

According to Vernors company legend, before Vernor left to serve in the Civil War, he stored some of his experimental ginger ale in an oak cask. When he returned to Detroit four years later, he opened the cask and found that the drink had been changed by the aging process, tasting even better than it had before. He declared the ginger ale to be “Deliciously Different,” which became one of the many slogans for the drink. Around 1880, Vernor opened his own drug store on Woodward Avenue at the corner of Clifford Street, where he sold “Vernor’s Ginger Ale” at the store’s soda fountain. He closed the drug store in 1896, opening a soda fountain closer to the center of the city on Woodward Avenue, south of Jefferson near the riverfront ferry docks, so that he could concentrate solely on his soda business.

Vernor’s Ginger Ale was originally a local drink that was only available in Detroit. However, Vernor quickly opened a manufacturing and bottling plant, which soon made his famous beverage available across the Midwestern United States. Vernors was bottled in Detroit for more than one hundred years, finally ending production in 1985. Today, the soda is made by the Dr. Pepper Corporation, so it has a much larger realm of distribution than ever before. Vernors has become one of the best known brands of ginger ale throughout the world but remains the most popular in the Midwestern United States.

Although he will always be most well known for creating Vernors Ginger Ale, James Vernor was also one of the original members of the Michigan Board of Pharmacy, which was formed in 1887, and he held License No. 1 throughout his career. In addition, he served on the Detroit City Council for 25 years. In 1927, at the age of 84, James Vernor died in Grosse Ile, Michigan from pneumonia and influenza.

Edited by Julia Teran