The 10 Biggest Moments In Pepsi's 125-Year History

Pepsi, sold since 1898, has had plenty of successes and failures across the decades.

Pepsi, perhaps more than any other beverage brand, needs no introduction. Since it was conceived in the late 19th century, Pepsi has dominated the beverage landscape, made countless classic pop culture appearances, and fought valiantly in the Cola Wars against its archrival, Coke.

This year, Pepsi is celebrating its 125th anniversary. What better way to recognize its legacy than to list some of the most memorable milestones in the brand's long and storied history? And we're talking all sorts of milestones here—the good, the bad, and the Crystal. Let's pop the tab on some Pepsi lore.

1893-1898: Pepsi’s beginning

Pepsi obviously wasn't just dispensed from the great soda fountain in the sky; someone had to come along and create it. That someone was Caleb Bradham, a pharmacist in New Bern, North Carolina. His original 1893 concoction was named Brad's Drink, but in 1898 the beverage's name was changed to "Pepsi-Cola" because Bradham envisioned the drink as an aid to dyspepsia, or indigestion. The fizzy mixture of sugar, water, caramel, lemon oil, nutmeg, and various other ingredients proved to be very popular.


Pepsi's rival Coca-Cola was also created by a pharmacist, roughly a decade earlier. To this day, soda maintains a reputation of possessing healing powers, at least for those suffering a hangover.

1930s: Pepsi takes to the skies

Before companies could push ads in front of our faces via TV and social media, skywriting was an effective way for them to capture eyeballs en masse. Starting in the 1930s and continuing for decades, Pepsi is credited as being one of the first companies to use skywriting to advertise. It's also said that Pepsi used the medium more than any other company. At its peak, Pepsi had 14 skywriting aircraft at its service and was doing as many as 2,225 skywritings in a year over most U.S. states plus other nearby countries. Apparently Pepsi was always willing to go the extra (vertical) mile.


1963: Diet Pepsi introduced

Pepsi decided to take a turn for the healthy in the early 1960s and introduced Patio Diet Cola. You might be wondering, "Why call it Patio Diet Cola and not the obvious Diet Pepsi?" Apparently, at that time, it was common wisdom that diet sodas should be distanced from their less healthy counterparts. This helps explain why RC's diet drink was named Diet Rite and Coca-Cola's was TaB (RIP).


Soon afterward, however, Pepsi made the bold (for its time) decision to rebrand Patio Diet Cola as Diet Pepsi. This was simply because Pepsi "didn't have enough money to advertise two different products," as then-CEO Donald Kendall put it. Great things can come from thrifty decisions.

1965: Pepsi’s big merger

Have you ever wondered where the phrase "Pepsi owns flipping everything" comes from? It started in 1965, when Pepsi-Cola and Frito-Lay merged to become PepsiCo—the story goes that the CEOs of the two companies sketched out the deal on a napkin. The decades since have amounted to a very profitable (and occasionally controversial) string of mergers, with PepsiCo now owning many of the products that you snack or sip on. There was even a time when Pepsi owned KFC, Pizza Hut, and Taco Bell.


1972: Pepsi’s Soviet expansion

Pepsi has the honor (or dishonor, depending on who you ask) of being the first American consumer product to be produced and sold in the Soviet Union. The deal was sealed in 1972 after years of work by Pepsi bigwig Donald Kendall. This work included a 1959 trip to the Soviet Union, during which Kendall (and his friend, Vice President Richard Nixon) schmoozed with Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev and gave him his first taste of Pepsi. The beverage brand remained in the region for many years, but would eventually cease operations in Russia due to the nation's 2022 invasion of Ukraine.


Interesting side note: Because the ruble couldn't be internationally exchanged, the Soviets instead paid Pepsi with material goods like vodka and, later, literal warships.

1983: Pepsi Lands Michael Jackson

Myriad controversies aside, there's no denying the star power of Michael Jackson in the 1980s. He was a marketer's dream, and that dream came true for Pepsi in 1983 when it struck a $5 million endorsement deal with Jackson (as well as his brothers). It was part of a youth-targeted campaign aimed at positioning Pepsi as both younger and cooler than Coca-Cola, and it's safe to say that upon its launch, Pepsi moonwalked all over its rival. In fact, the campaign was so successful that, as Fast Company notes, it led Coca-Cola to introduce New Coke as an attempt to keep up. Yikes.


The Pepsi/Jackson deal is still regarded as a standard bearer for celebrity brand collaborations. But not a standard bearer for fire safety.

1992: The Crystal Pepsi disaster

It's never a good sign when your product becomes the subject of a Family Guy gag. Such is the case for Crystal Pepsi, a uniquely transparent version of its famous drink (with a slightly different taste). It was released in 1992 and got off to a promising start before flopping and disappearing from shelves in 1994.


Despite the commercial failure, Crystal Pepsi still holds a special place in the hearts of many nostalgic fans. It's also seemingly still loved by Pepsi executives, who have since brought it back a couple of times. It's obvious that the story of transparent beverages if far from over, though—just ask Japan.

1992-1996: Controversial Pepsi contests

The '90s were really not Pepsi's decade. In conjunction with the Crystal Pepsi debacle were two promotional contests that each ended up having disastrous consequences.

The first was in 1992, when Pepsi introduced its bottle cap lottery to the Philippines. Basically, if someone bought a bottle of Pepsi (or a Pepsi product) with the winning number on the cap, they were eligible to receive a monetary prize. It went smoothly until Pepsi mistakenly printed hundreds of thousands of winning bottle caps, resulting in way too many winners. In a bid to avoid bankruptcy, Pepsi declined to award the promised amount to the winners, which then led to violent riots in which several people were killed. Pepsi was hit with lawsuits, but somehow managed to walk away relatively unscathed.


...Until the company headed to court due to another contest-related mishap. In 1996, Pepsi launched Pepsi Stuff, a promotion in which purchases of Pepsi awarded customers "Pepsi Points" which could then be redeemed for prizes. The TV commercial explained that 75 Pepsi Points gets you a T-shirt, while jokingly adding that a cool 7 million Pepsi Points can be redeemed for a Harrier fighter jet. Since the latter was a gag, Pepsi never anticipated someone like John Leonard taking them up on it. The college student accumulated the necessary points to receive the jet and then took legal action against Pepsi when the advertised offer wasn't honored. Although Pepsi won the case, it was a giant mess that has now been immortalized in a Netflix series.


2019: Super Bowl LIII

One of the most amusing battles in the Cola Wars occurred in 2019, when the Super Bowl, sponsored by Pepsi, was held in Atlanta, the birthplace of Coca-Cola. Pepsi seized upon this opportunity and proceeded to flood the city with over 350 advertisements, many of them tongue-in-cheek. But Coca-Cola (perhaps realizing that this was an opportunity for its own brand as well) was a good sport about the whole thing, and there was even a momentary truce where a statue of Pepsi inventor Caleb Bradham was positioned in a toast with a statue of Coca-Cola inventor John Pemberton. Very sweet.


2023: The Pepsi rebrand

Pepsi is certainly no stranger to a logo change but there's something extra special about the one that was unveiled in 2023, its 125th birthday year. This new logo and brand identity pays tribute to Pepsi's past, but with some modern twists, very representative of a brand that has had both a rich history and an exciting future ahead. The unveiling of Pepsi's new logo/identity is just one aspect of its epic 125-day celebration, which is set to include the opening of a Pepsi Diner.