‘Darn Good Cream Soda’ From Ely Bottling Works

As of this morning, the News Tribune Attic has passed 10,000 page views since it started in early February. Thanks to everyone who has visited the site, and thanks for all the comments and e-mails. I’ve been able to fill a few reader requests for photos of certain places or events; if you have any suggestions, please pass them along.

It has been a great first few weeks, and I hope to keep this site running strong for a long time to come. There are a lot of files yet to be explored up in the attic.

To celebrate, let’s pop open a cream soda from Ely Bottling Works….

Aug. 6, 1978

Charlie Lampi bottles tradition and darn good cream soda at his Ely Bottling Works. (News-Tribune)

Charlie still caps Ely soda tradition

By Susan Willoughby, News-Tribune

ELY – John Jackman would be proud that his tradition has lived on at the tiny house on Harvey Street.

Despite competition from the likes of Mesaba, Vermilion and Tower Bottling Works when he opened in the 1890s, his Ely Bottling Works has lived to compete with the big names like Coca-Cola and Pepsi.

Not much has changed since the shop opened more than 80 years ago, and the bottles will keep clanking here as long as Charlie Lampi has anything to say about it.

The bottling business has been in Charlie’s family since Jacob Lampi purchased it from Jackman 71 years ago. Charlie, nearing 75, has had the helm for 41 years.

A wall has been added or knocked down here and there since then, but the same machine has been washing the bottles since 1925 and the Dixie bottler has been on the job almost as long.

The reminders of Jacob and Jackman’s time are still kept in a display case with bottles produced by the competition. Charlie collects bottles as mementos of the days when every town on the Iron Range had a bottling works.

"See those spritzer tops?" he asked. "My brother and I used to squirt them at each other and they’d go like crazy. Boy, Dad would have a fit!"

The faded curtains on the windows and a room of antiques tell the story of Ely’s bottling tradition. A rolltop desk and cast iron safe in his office are "as old as the hills, but they still work."

The operation is a one-man job, though a helper retired after 30 years a few months ago. Now Charlie mixes all his own syrup, cleans and fills the bottles, makes deliveries to the resorts and grocery stores, keeps an eye on the inventory and keeps the shop spotless.

His only helper is a bookkeeper "who keeps me on my toes," he laughed.

Production may be a bit down from years back, with national bottling companies moving in with canned drinks, but Charlie "never mentions numbers." He still bottles strawberry, orange, grape, lemon, black cherry, Plus 4, cola, root beer, a sour mix and his famous cream soda – and he sets his own hours.

"I like to go bumming a lot," he confided. "When things get slow or I get tired I go over to the community center and read for a while or just visit.

"I may work real late some nights, and then just take it easy the next day," he explained.

The mixing of syrup is done upstairs, and that’s where the secret to his bottling is contained.

"First, it’s gotta be cold when you drink it or it just doesn’t taste as good," he said. "Second, you’ve gotta have it sweet. If you don’t get enough sugar in it you don’t get the taste. Corn syrup or that saccharin stuff just won’t do the trick."

The sweetness isn’t the only secret to his cream soda, however. While mixing the extract provided by Kist Beverage Co., with whom he is franchised, Charlie adds "a little kick for flavor."

Don’t even bother asking. The secret will probably be lost when Charlie retires.

"During the war [World War II] when there wasn’t enough sugar, I stopped making the cream soda," he said. "It’s nothing if it isn’t sweet. So when I started making it again people came from all over. And that’s what people still ask for."

Charlie used to divide his time between the bottling business and logging, from which he retired six years ago. The years have been easy on Charlie, and he sees no reason to quit.

"People keep asking me how I can keep working when I’m getting old, but I just tell them that I did my celebrating when I was young," he grins. "I might as well work when I’m old – I’m not good for much else."

But that doesn’t mean he’s given up on celebrating, he adds.

"When I’m feeling good I can go to beat the band like nothing else," he said.

His shop is hounded by antique hunters, but Charlie doesn’t plan on parting company with his possessions.

"People are always coming in asking for something," Charlie said. "But I don’t think about any of that yet. It’s an old building, they are old machines – I just don’t think about that kind of thing until the time comes."


Does anyone know what happened to Ely Bottling Works?

6 Responses

  1. BOB


  2. Russ Dojan

    When I was in first grade I remember going to the Ely Bottling Works (about 1646) because I was going to the class picnic at the park and the teacher said I needed a bottle of pop. I never drank pop before this and my mother never bought any pop so I really did not know anything about pop. But I knew they made pop at the Ely Bottling Works so I headed there. Much to my surprise, I asked for a bottle of pop and was turned down! They said I had to go to the store for pop but I was convinced they could sell me a bottle of pop but no off to the store I went. Never did this before either. I finally got a bottle of pop from a store and headed for the picnic. Never forget that bottle of pop.

  3. Pingback : Photo mystery solved… and other odds and ends | News Tribune Attic

  4. Austin at Austinbottlingworks@yahoo.com

    good story. whish i knew what happened to all of his old bottles. would love to know early history of Jackman and Lampi from pre1920. I am writing a book on MN sodas. thanks!!


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