Actually, the name “Seltzer” (called “seltser”) came from the German town of Niederselters. In 1772, scientist Joseph Priestly who “sniffed” out oxygen, wrote it could prevent scurvy. So, the next year Jacob Schweppes (yes, that Schweppes) of London, produced and sold this medical marvel. “Seltser” not only rid one of “feverish ailments and biliousness,” but could cure nervous affections brought on by “much speaking– or dancing.” Dr. Philip Syng Physick introduced the artificial carbonated water to America in 1807 for relief of gastric disorders (Do you remember when your bubbe called a laxative a “physic?” OK mine did). Well, Philadelphia pharmacist Townsend Speakman supplied his patients with a glass daily, and at $1.50 per month, no Philadelphian would belch. Even The New York Times, in an 1835 ad touted the elixir for “travelers as the only sure preventative against the influence of a hostile climate.”

As for the egg cream? Mel Brooks described its curative powers in a 1975 interview. When one of his childhood friends was hurt playing ball, he would scream, “Bring an egg cream!” An egg cream, Brooks described, “can do anything … Psychologically, it is the opposite of circumcision. It pleasurably reaffirms your Jewishness.”

So yes, it was We Jews who “Jewish-ized “Seltser” in the U.S. in the late 1800s, giving it the Yiddish name “seltzer” or “two cents plain” which became the title of Harry Golden’s 1958 book on growing up poor in the early 1900s. The entire Lower East Side was “addicted to seltzer,” wrote Golden. At least 73 soda fountains could be found in a one-third square mile area by 1900.

And we believed those sharp bubblies alone saved us from everything from shmaltz-induced acid reflux to Zayde’s prune juice stain on the carpet. After all, the Madison Avenue folks decided to call it Alka-Seltzer for a reason.

Source: Excerpt from an article written by Marnie Winston-Macauley

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