During the week of May 9th in 1876, the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition was opened and sassafras flavored Hires Root Beer was introduced to a thirsty nation. Hires became wildly popular. You can read more about both Hires and their success with Root Beer from the Iowa Digital Library, Hires’ Root Beer 1891.
In 1869, the following recipe for home made root beer became widespread and exceedingly popular – but we don’t know where it originated, unfortunately.
1869 Root Beer Recipe
For each gallon of water take 1/2 ounce each of hops, burdock, yellow dock, sarsaparilla, dandelion and spikenard roots, bruised. Boil about 20 minutes and strain while hot. Add 8 to 10 drops of oils of spruce and sassafras mixed in equal proportions. When cooled to a warm temp, add 2 to 3 tablespoons yeast, molasses, 2/3 pint, or white sugar 1/2 pound. Put the mix in a jar, with a cloth covering it, let it work for 2 to 3 hours, then bottle and set in a cool place.
The roots of Sassafras can be steeped to make tea and were used in the flavoring of root beer until being banned by the U. S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1960. Subsequently, both Canada and the United States have passed laws against the sale of any consumable products (beverages, foods, cosmetics, health products such as toothpaste, and others) that contain more than specific small amounts of safrole. Most home brewers are now making home made root beers from commercially sold root beer concentrates.
You may also enjoy Making Hires Root Beer.