"MEMBERS OF THE JOHN DERR, SENIOR . FAMILY ARE RANKED HIGH AMONG THE MOST PROMINENT MOVERS & SHAKERS IN EARLY WARRICK COUNTY."
John Derr, Senior founded John Derr & Sons beginning its operations in 1889 to date their soft drink bottling company remains the oldest & only continuous such business in the State of Indiana.
When John Derr & Sons first started in Boonville, there were no lights or plumbing, electric motors or water systems. Everything was done manually by hand. Water, which was all-essential for making soft drinks, was drilled and pumped out of a well by hand. The business operated during the time period when the old "spring stopper system" was used. First, the stopper was pushed into the bottle and then a rubber disc on the end was forced against the spring & the liquid would "pop" out of the bottle. This led to the nickname of "soda pop."
Because of the method that had to be used, it took an average of 10 minutes to fill a case of 24 bottles . Also, washing all of the bottles as they were returned, became a never-ending job for the employees. In the beginning, the business used horses & wagons in their operation. About the Turn of the Century, the owners brought to town, one of the first trucks anyone had seen like it. It was a two-cylinder Buick with solid tires and chain drive.
Once trucks replaced horses for deliveries to retailers in Warrick County, the business began to manufacture fine smoking cigars with fancy names such as "Derr's Special" and "The Opera House." Other changes were being made, such as the manufacturing of flavored syrups to be used over crushed ice to make those wonderful "Snow Cones" that sold aplenty at county fairs & carnivals.
(The Derr family always had a tent stand set up on the Midway at the Big Boonville Fair each summer, adjacent to the big Grandstand where they sold their cold, frosty treats). They had their very own private penthouse box built high in the air alongside the horse racing tracks at The Boonville Fairgrounds, with the perfect view of stage shows, and the daily afternoon horse races.
At this time the operation was named the Boonville Bottling Works Company and they started a packing company for the Soda. By 1910 the company was selling soda under the name Derr’s Soda and was in high demand due to the automobile. The town of Boonville was expanding at a rate that could not keep up with the local merchant sales and was in need for a major infrastructure work. In 1923 Albert Derr was a pivotal force in helping getting these things done including getting Boonville out of the mud by paving the principal streets to keep up with other Towns as well as getting a larger, clean, constant water supply for the manufactures and the citizens of Boonville. After completion the business was very competitive and successful for many years in the market of Soda and extract.
Throughout the years one thing that never changed was the method & recipes used to make all of those delicious soft drinks : Derr's Dry, Strawberry, Orange, Orange Pineapple, Grape, Cream Soda, Root Beer, & Derr's Coke. Derr's Dry & Derr's Strawberry were always the favorites. The earliest formulas were developed in a trial & error method by John Derr, Sr. and his son, Albert C. Derr , expanded on them. Finally, at one point, the business offered a broad line of extracts & food colorings for baking purposes. The most popular of these was Derr's Vanilla Extract, which was, widely considered as "one of the best on the market."
Derr Brothers stayed operational until 1962. Albert C.'s son, Charles, was the sole owner & manager until the business closed in 1992, under the name Derr's Inc
When the business closed its doors at the business on South 5th Street in Boonville for the last time, Derr's Strawberry & Derr's Dry were the only soft drinks being bottled, yet all of the other formulas were still used in making fountain syrups, flavors and the extracts. It was a sad day when , after 106 years in business, there appeared to be no qualified or keenly -interested member of this large family, particularly from the younger generations, that wanted to take over. Essentially what happened was that no one in the Derr family had time for the business anymore. The final owner upon closure was Charles Derr. Within the family, the question was always, “when, not if” Derr’s would re-open. Charles Derr’s nephew, Joe Derr, Jr. and Charles’s son, John Derr finally restarted Derr’s in early 2010. They are also assisted by John’s sister, Barb Byers.
With risk of losing all of the Secret Recipe’s and not having the product available anymore the business was bought by the current owner Terry Fortune. Terry is a staple in the Town of Boonville as he owns a Ice Cream shop Called TF and uses all of the Derr’s formulas in his products he sales. The flavoring, coloring, syrup, extract is being made in a facility on the same property and sent all over the world.