Alka-Seltzer is a coined word that suggests alkalinity and the carbonation of seltzer.
In 1928, Hub Beardsley, president of Dr. Miles Laboratories, discovered that the editor of the local newspaper in Elkhart, Indiana, prevented his staff from getting influenza during a severe flu epidemic by giving them a novel combination of aspirin and baking soda. Beardsley immediately set his chief chemist, Maurice Treneer, to work devising a tablet containing the two ingredients.
In 1978, Bayer acquired Miles Laboratories. Bayer, founded by Friedrich Bayer in 1863 to develop synthetic dyes, became a pioneer in the modern German chemical industry—developing the first synthetic pesticide in 1892, aspirin in 1899, synthetic rubber in 1915, a treatment for African sleeping sickness in 1921, and the first sulfa drug in 1935—and pioneered the development of polyurethanes.
An Alka-Seltzer tablet fizzing in a glass of water prompted a hung-over W.C. Fields to joke, “Can’t anyone do something about that racket?”
Early promotions for Alka-Seltzer featured Speedy Alka-Seltzer, a baby-faced puppet with red hair and a tablet-shaped hat created in 1951. Stop-motion animation brought Speedy to life in 212 television commercials between 1954 and 1964, requiring nineteen plaster heads with various lip positions, two sets of legs and arms, and as many as 1,440 adjustments for a single 60-second commercial. Voice-over talent Dick Beals provided Speedy’s voice.
Speedy Alka-Seltzer co-starred with Buster Keaton, Martha Tilton, Sammy Davis, Jr., and the Flintstones. Speedy Alka-Seltzer celebrated America’s Bicentennial, participated in the 1980 Winter Olympics, attended thousands of holiday dinners, and has helped Santa Claus.
The original 6-inch-high Speedy Alka-Seltzer working model became so famous that it was insured for $100,000 and kept in the vault of a Beverly Hills bank. In 1955, a plastic Speedy doll was issued in a limited edition.
The buffered aspirin in Alka-Seltzer peaks within 30 minutes, whereas regular aspirin tablets peak in about two hours.
In the 1970s Alka-Seltzer became widely known for its innovative television commercials, launching the catchphrases “Momma mia, that’s a spicy meatball,” “Try it, you’ll like it” and “I can’t believe I ate the whole thing.’
The “Plop, Plop, Fizz, Fizz, Oh What a Relief It Is!” vintage theme song for Alka-Seltzer, written by Tom Dawes in 1977, remains one of the most recognized commercial melodies and a favorite of popular culture trivia buffs.