When Richard C. Jones of Davenport, Iowa, concocted a sparkling green drink to attract high school students to his ice cream shop and soda fountain in 1916, little did he know that one day it would keep a brewery in operation during Prohibition, inspire a famous rock song, and become a symbol of Irish festivities in Chicago. But such is the charm of the electric Green River soft drink, with its characteristic lemon-lime tang.
Jones named his creation “Green River,” and it was an instantly popular Davenportian refreshment. In 1919, he sold his recipe to the Schoenhofen Edelweiss Brewing Company in Chicago, which manufactured and sold the beverage until the company shut down its brewery in 1950. During the early years of Prohibition, when Schoenhofen had to limit production of its Edelweiss beer, it is said the company got by from the sales of Green River. From around 1930 to 1950, Green River was the second-most popular carbonated beverage in the Midwest, after Coca-Cola. After Schoenhofen closed operations, several other entities owned the secret recipe and distribution rights for Green River, and the drink would sporadically pop up at stores or drive-ins.
Green River’s popularity spread as far as California, where it found its most famous fan. Creedence Clearwater Revival’s John Fogerty named a song after the verdant drink, which he enjoyed at his neighborhood pharmacy. In the CCR biography Bad Moon Rising, Fogerty says, “The drink was a green, lime drink on ice with fizz water, a soggy green snow cone. That’s what I would order and it made me the happiest.” The band released “Green River,” whose lyrics described a walk along a river (and did not mention the soda), in 1969. Even though the song was a massive hit, few know the origins of its name and the soda has remained a mostly Midwestern favorite. While it is unclear why Richard Jones named Green River thus, the drink’s fortuitous name and green color make it a perfect refreshment for St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in Chicago, when the Chicago River is dyed green. Nearly a third of Green River’s annual sales allegedly happen around St. Patrick’s Day. Chicagoans have been enamored of this electric-green fizzy pop for over a century.
Though the brand was acquired by the California-based WIT Beverage company in 2011 and Mr. Jones’s original shop no longer exists, you can still find an authentic Green River soda in its ancestral home. Simply slide onto a stool at Lagomarcino’s soda fountain counter in Davenport, where a refreshing glass costs about $2.
Where to Try It
For an authentic soda fountain enjoyment of Green River, head to Lago’s, as the locals call this candy, ice cream and soda shop, in operation since 1908.