In the mid 1800s, a German immigrant family, John and Kathariana Roesen and their children, settled in Jefferson City, where they established Jefferson City's first soda water company.
The business was located at 127 E. High St., where Sweet Smoke BBQ currently operates. Their new company and its bottled products were well-received, and the business thrived.
Since the building was located at the top of a hill, water had to be hauled from sources near the bottom of the hill to keep the large cistern beneath the building full.
John and Kathariana operated the company into the 1870s, when they became partners with the Fischer Drug Store, which was located adjacent to the bottling company. Together they bottled "Fischer & Roesen" soda into the 1880s. Today, bottles embossed "Fischer & Roesen" can still be found and are prized by bottle collectors and collectors of other local memorabilia.
In 1890, their son, William F. Roesen, assumed control of the company and its name was changed to W.F. Roesen Sodas. He operated on High Street for a while. But as times changed and local demand for the soda grew, Roesen built the Western Steam Bottling Works at 610 Jefferson St. The bottling works occupied a part of the same block as Jacob Moerschel and his massive Capitol Brewery Company, which covered much of the area along the 100 block of West Dunklin Street behind the Western Steam Bottling Works building.
The new Western Steam Bottling Works contained a state-of-the-art steam-bottling machine and a freshwater artesian well dug in the basement to supply the water needed without the expense and work of hauling it from a remote location. Steam bottling was a new method, which allowed a faster and safer means of producing bottled products. Some of the nationally trademarked products of Western Steam Bottling were Iron Phostone, Ginger Ale and a product, which was a vegetable tonic known as Iron Brew. The other generic products produced at the facility were sarsaparilla, strawberry soda, lemon sour, lemon soda and mineral water.
W.F. Roesen continued to operate the Western Steam Bottling Works until 1914 until he retired. With retirement, Roesen became involved with other endeavors, which would benefit Jefferson City. He was a major shareholder of Jefferson City Bridge and Transit Company, which built the first Missouri River bridge and operated the trolley system in Jefferson City. Roesen was also president of Jefferson Mining and Development Company and a director of Exchange Bank.
At Roesen's retirement, Jacob Moerschel's Capitol Brewery Company bought the bottling works to obtain the license to bottle Coca-Cola soda, and the bottling of Coca-Cola was moved to the Capitol Brewery building on Dunklin Street. At the time, two licenses to bottle Coca Cola in Jefferson City existed. Moerschel became the major competitor of the second license holder, Tom Menteer. Due to strong business competition locally, Menteer eventually sold his license to Moerschel.
When Capitol Brewery Company acquired the Coca Cola license, the balance of the business was sold, including Western Steam Bottling Works with all of the remaining products to Albert Happy in 1915. From this facility, Happy bottled a new product, Jersey Creme Soda and other products. Because of the inability to compete with the larger Coca-Cola firm, the A.W. Happy Company closed in 1925.
Fueled by the passage of the 18th Amendment, which became effective in 1920 and prohibited sales of alcoholic beverages in the Unites States, the production of soft drinks became essential to the survival to the company, and Capitol Brewery Company became Moerschel Products Company. In 1922, Moerschel Products Company acquired a bottler's franchise for Genuine Coca-Cola.
Contamination of the soda from brewery yeast required Moerschel Products to build the current Coca-Cola building in 1941, which is located at 604 Jefferson St. next to the old Western Steam Bottling Works building.
The building that had been Western Steam Bottling Works was converted into a retail store. The brick front of the building was removed, and a large display window was installed. Today, the Western Steam bottling plant at 610 Jefferson St. is home to J&D Bicycle Shop, which is located adjacent to the Coca-Cola bottling and distribution center. The Vogel family, who are descendants of the Moerschel family, are the current owners and operators of the Coca-Cola bottling and distribution facilities.
The story of the Roesen family, and their soda water legacy and that of the Western Steam Bottling Works is a subject that is rarely remembered outside of local bottle collector circles and the Old Munichburg area. Many of the artifacts of that business serve as a reminder of the rich history of the bottling industry in Jefferson City.
Wyatt Prosch is a home-schooled junior in high school and interested in local history, particularly the history of soda bottling and brewing in Jefferson City. Wyatt also has interests in figure skating and collecting Jefferson City antiques related to his history interests. He envisions a career in real estate after graduation.