Soda jerk

A soda jerk (or soda jerker[1]) is a person—typically a youth—who operates the soda fountain in a drugstore, often for the purpose of preparing and serving soda drinks and ice cream sodas.[2] This was made by putting flavored syrup into a specially designed tall glass and adding carbonated water. One or two scoops of ice cream, or occasionally malt powder, could be added. The result was served with a long-handled spoon, most commonly known as a "soda spoon", and drinking straws.

Soda jerk passing an ice cream soda between two soda fountains, New York City, 1936
A soda jerk tossing a scoop of ice cream into a metal mixing cup before blending a malted shake, Texas, 1939

Origin of termEdit

The term soda jerk was a pun on soda clerk, the formal job title of the drugstore assistants who operated soda fountains. It was inspired by the "jerking" action the server would use to swing the soda fountain handle back and forth when adding the soda water.[3] The soda fountain spigot itself typically was a sturdy, shiny fixture on the end of a pipe or other similar structure protruding above the counter, curving towards where the glasses would be filled. All of the drinks were made with unflavored carbonated water. Consequently, the tap handle was large, as the soda jerker would use it frequently. This made the mixing of drinks a center of activity at the soda fountain.


The practice of operating a soda fountain in a drugstore reached its peak popularity in the 1940s[4] but was popular from the '20s through the '50s. The position was coveted, and was commonly only awarded after protracted menial labor in the store.[4] Soda jerking was dominated by popular young men with loud personalities and good people skills because of the popular environment and "cool" association. These boys who worked at the shops were expected to serve the drinks and also socialize and entertain the guests.

Michael Karl Witzel describes an archetypal soda jerk as "[a] consummate showman, innovator and freelance linguist ... the pop culture star of the Gilded Age".[4][clarification needed]

The proliferation of ice cream parlors declined as drive-ins and walk-up fast food stands grew in popularity, and grill and fry cooks replaced soda jerks.[4] Some modern theme diners are styled after establishments in the 1950s and include a soda jerk, along with retro jukeboxes and booth seating.

Generally, soda jerks wore iconic white paper or cloth caps called "soda jerk caps", button-up shirts with a bow tie and an apron as their uniform.


Soda jerks were known for having their own lingo for how their drinks were made. They created nicknames for different drinks. For example, they called a glass of milk "baby" and a strawberry milkshake "in the hay".[5] A Coca-Cola with ice was called "scratch one". They also had lingo to express how they wanted their drink to be served. Coffee being called "draw one" would be served strong if called "draw one from the south". If a drink was ordered with extra ice it was "heavy on the hail".[5]

Some of these terms are used today. Egg creams, the shorthand for a chocolate soda with some milk, are served in many places and are especially known in New York where it originated.[6]

Concrete is another term from soda jerk lingo that is still used. Concrete's definition remains a super thick milkshake or custard. Today, a company known for using the term is Culver's, because of their Concrete Mixers.[7]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Allen, Irving (1993). The City in Slang. Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-509265-1.
  2. ^ Partridge, Eric (2006). The New Partridge Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English. New York: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-21258-8.
  3. ^ McCafferty, Kevin. "Soda Jerks History". San Gabriel Valley Menus. Archived from the original on 2006-09-27. Retrieved 2006-11-03.
  4. ^ a b c d Witzel, Michael (2002). "Splendour of the Soda Fountains". The American Drive-in Restaurant. Osceola: Motorbooks International. ISBN 0-7603-1350-4.
  5. ^ a b "Soda Jerks: A Lingo All Their Own". Hamilton Beach. Retrieved 2018-05-21.
  6. ^ Stradley, Linda (April 17, 2015). "New York Egg Cream Recipe And History". What's Cooking America. Retrieved 2018-05-21.
  7. ^ "Concrete Mixers | Frozen Custard & Candy Mixers". Culver's. Retrieved 2018-05-21.

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