WHEN Glasgow chemist Charles Cameron first unveiled his functional proto-Sodastream technology (or “Soda Water Apparatus”) to Scottish scientists more than 200 years ago, he knew any machine capable of quickly “impregnating mineral waters” with record amounts of fizziness could be very popular with Scotland’s growing drinks and bottling industry.

“Its purpose,” wrote the chemist in 1823, “Is for the manufacture of soda water, or of any other mineral water requiring to be charged with carbonic acid gas.”

In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, chemists all over Britain, Europe, and the United States had turned salt-rich fizzy waters into a lucrative business. Jacob Schweppe had already moved his HQ to London in 1792, and by 1800, full-flavoured “single and double strength” soda waters had become a popular tonic available only in pharmacies.

One Dublin manufacturer established a bottle deposit scheme around this time, and early ginger beers were being mass-produced between 1809 and the 1820s when London had no less than ten different drinks manufacturers.

Cameron’s enthusiasm for fizzy drinks didn’t dull his ability to think outside the box. He understood gas and pressure (he’d already invented a fire extinguisher) and observed that his new machine could, with some modification, revolutionise self-propelled transport and the future of all heavy industry. In the chemist’s own words, he observed and discovered in his designs “a new power” equal to that of steam.

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After exhibiting the machine at the Royal Society in 1821, he insisted that: “10,000 gallons of carbonic acid could be instantaneously produced” for the bottling industry, but if his system was throttled with the twist of a single nut (to “prevent too great an effervescence”), the accumulated excess gas would pass into a second sealed vessel, where it would be “absorbed by the water”. Cameron said this allowed “a pressure from 20 to 30 atmospheres [to be] thrown into the vessels”.

“It must therefore be obvious to every man of science,” the chemist wrote, “That if the vessel were connected by a pipe, with the valves of an engine somewhat similar to a steam engine, the vast pressure, which can be so instantaneously produced, would raise and depress alternately the piston of a cylinder.”

The proposed cylinder required no water intake and minimal heat, and was 20 times smaller than a steam engine. The ideas were described in 1821 by the Edinburgh Magazine And Literary Miscellany as a “discovery of a new power equal to steam”.

“The apparatus displays great ingenuity, having neither gasometer nor air-pump, yet a boy is capable of compressing into any vessel thirty or forty atmospheres of gas in as many minutes as half a dozen men would […] in half a dozen hours.”

If sulphuric acid hadn’t been so expensive, Cameron’s engine would be “more applicable to many purposes” and “equally effective as a 40 horsepower steam engine”. It would “occupy a space of four feet square, requiring neither fire nor water,” and could’ve replaced “the steam engine in its application of vessels”.

Sadly for Cameron and his champions, it wasn’t just the price of sulphuric acid that stalled the launch of his engine. When Cameron first started tinkering with engine technology, steam locomotives were still in their infancy.

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The fastest steam engine in 1820 struggled to maintain 4mph, the speed of an average country rambler, but George Stephenson’s steam-powered “Locomotion No.1” was allegedly already hitting a maximum speed of 30mph (48kmh) by 1825.

When Cameron said his soda engine could “supersede the steam engine”, he was referring only to the steam engines of 1820, which were much smaller, slower, and far more unreliable/dangerous than those that came after. It was easy for readers, scientists, ecologists, and transport companies to forget all about the Glasgow Ginger Engine – by the 1850s, passengers could expect to travel at 50mph (80km/h) using steam technology.

The inventor sold his machine to another chemist operating in Glasgow, who then “employed the apparatus for several years in his shop”. The designs were briefly “imitated by a druggist in Edinburgh”, but the Edinburgh version exploded.

Investment in Ginger Engine technology quickly fizzled out, but bottlers could now pump more fizz into fizzy-pop than ever before. At the Great Exhibition (1851), more than a million bottles of lemonade, ginger beer, and various soda waters, were sold to thirsty attendees.