A soda jerk (or soda jerker) is a person—typically a youth—who operates the soda fountain in a drugstore, often for the purpose of preparing and serving flavored soda water or an ice cream soda. This was made by putting flavored syrup into a specially designed tall glass, adding carbonated water and, finally, one or two scoops of ice cream. The result was served with a long-handled spoon, most commonly known as a "soda spoon", and drinking straws.
Origin of term
The term 'soda jerk' was a pun on 'soda clerk', the formal job title of the drugstore assistants who operated soda fountains, and was inspired by the "jerking" action the server would use to swing the soda fountain handle back and forth when adding the soda water. The soda fountain spigot itself typically was a sturdy, shiny fixture on the end of a metal pipe or other similar structure sticking out of the counter by several feet and curving towards where the glasses would be filled. The unflavored carbonated water was used to make all of the drinks. Consequently, the tap handle was typically large, as a busy shop would have the soda jerker using it frequently. This made the mixing of drinks a center of activity at the soda fountain counter.
The practice of operating a soda fountain in a drugstore reached its peak popularity in the 1940s. The position was highly coveted, and was commonly only awarded after several months or years of menial labor in the store.
The proliferation of ice cream parlors declined, however, as drive-ins and walk-up fast food stands grew in popularity, and soda jerks were replaced by grill and fry cooks. Some modern theme diners are styled after establishments from the 1950s, however, and include an actual soda jerk, along with retro jukeboxes and booth seating.
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