Few people remember the debut of 7-Up in 1929, so it’s no surprise that you might not know its original name. But Bib-Label Lithiated Lemon-Lime Soda was quite a product! And if you read that closely, you might be wondering if they really put lithium in 7-Up. And the answer is yes.
Why was there lithium in 7-Up soda?
As you likely know, lithium is a compound that is used to help people with mental health issues like bipolar disorder and specific kinds of depression. It’s a mood stabilizer.
The soda really did contain the ingredient lithium citrate. And maybe that’s not such a big surprise since there were plenty of medicinal “tonics” on the market in those days that claimed to miraculously cure all kinds of ailments. (Of course, it’s not the only soda with an eye-popping history of ingredients – we’re looking at you, Coca-Cola!)
Interestingly, when 7-Up hit the shelves (right before the great stock market crash), it was competing with HUNDREDS of other lemon-lime sodas. It sold well – and perhaps it’s because people liked more than just the taste! But that may also be because its creator, Charles Leiper Grigg, marketed it as both a healthy and slenderizing tonic.
What’s in a name?
People were attracted to lithiated soda at the time because lithium had a reputation for being healing and restorative. There are naturally lithiated bodies of water that people still visit in order to absorb trace amounts of the compound. Just take a trip to Lithia Springs, Georgia!
Any lithium you’d absorb in water or in the original 7-Uo would be minuscule compared to what psychiatrists prescribe today. It would not have been enough to alter the mind in any significant way. But it could have been enough so that regular drinkers found some benefits in choosing it over other lemon-lime sodas.
In any case, the government saw fit to ban the use of lithium citrate in soft drinks in 1948. Eventually, it just became 7-Up.
Heads up, 7-UP
The big mystery about 7-Up is where the 7 came from – and that we really don’t know. According to a blog by Ada Mcvean from McGill University back in 2017:
“The soda went through a name change to 7 Up Lithiated Lemon Soda, before finally settling on just 7 Up, and a formula with no added lithium. The 7 in the name has no confirmed source, but several theories about its origin. Some soda fans claim that it is derived from the 7 ingredients used in the original recipe, others from the soda having a pH of 7 (which is not true), and others think that the 7 originates from the lithium in the original formula, as this element has an atomic mass of ~7.”
Maybe a historian will dig up Charles Leiper Grigg’s notes someday. But until then, the name will remain a mystery since he took that information to his grave.