150 years ago, when Nestlé’s history began with the foundation of the Anglo-Swiss Condensed Milk Company, bottled water was just starting to appear on the markets of the Western world. But some of the waters which today make up Nestlé Waters’ brand portfolio had already forged reputations dating back over hundreds of years. Their unique histories are intertwined with legendary figures like Hannibal, Julius Caesar, Mary Queen of Scots and Leonardo da Vinci …
Refreshment for Roman legions
Before crossing the Alps in 218 BC, Hannibal’s army rested near a spring on the plain of Languedoc in southern France, and found its naturally carbonated waters to be particularly refreshing. 160 years later, in 58 BC, Julius Caesar was to reward his soldiers by giving them plots of land near the same spring, and the settlement they created became the spa town of Vergèze, where more than a billion bottles of Perrier are today produced and exported to 140 countries.
A few decades later, in 70 AD, other Roman legions, landing in Britain to conquer the local tribes, found a warm spring in the rugged Pennine hills, and built a stronghold there that would become the spa town of Buxton (UK). By the 16th century, the healing powers of Buxton’s waters had gained renown, and visitors included Mary, Queen of Scots, who came there several times while a prisoner of the English, hoping that the water would cure her rheumatism.
At around the same time, the powerful Medici family in Florence discovered that the water from a spring near their Villa Panna country residence in the Apennines had a uniquely smooth taste. Lorenzo the Magnificent enjoyed it so much that he had it carried in large earthenware jugs to his court in Florence, and today the same water, called Acqua Panna (Italy), is sold all around the world.
San Pellegrino Terme, Nałęczów, Contrexéville, Vittel: the rise of the spa towns
The water of S.Pellegrino, Acqua Panna’s Italian partner brand, was discovered in the 12th century, flowing from natural springs in the Italian Alps. People were soon making pilgrimages from all over Italy to sample the "miraculous" water, and the visitors included Leonardo da Vinci, who visited the town in 1509 and mapped out the location of the springs. By the 18th century, the spa town of San Pellegrino Terme had become a favorite destination for the aristocrats and society figures of the Old Continent.
The health benefits of the spring water at Contrexéville (France), bottled today as Contrex, were first discovered in 1760 by the influential figure of Dr. Bagard, official doctor to King Louis XV, and the town, located in France’s mountainous Vosges region, opened its first thermal baths in 1774. A few decades later, in 1817, a professor at Warsaw University discovered unusual chemical properties in the mineral water in the Polish town of Nałęczów. The town rapidly became a famous spa, with its baths installed in the magnificent palace that appears on the Nałęczowianka packaging today.
Vittel and Poland Spring begin production in the same year
The 19th century saw other spa towns become fashionable among Europe’s wealthier classes, who rushed to drink their waters and immerse themselves in them while enjoying the rural scenery and the luxury of the local hotels. In 1854, Louis Bouloumié purchased a French spring with reputedly diuretic qualities in the ancient Gallo-Roman spa town of Vittel, near Contrexéville, and built a facility there for bottling water in square stoneware bottles. In the same year, several thousand miles across the Atlantic in the US state of Maine, Poland Spring became North America’s first commercially-packaged drinking water, going on the market for the (then) princely sum of 15 cents a jug. Today, Poland Spring is the first brand sold on the streets of NYC.
Meanwhile, in 1863 Emperor Napoleon III of France signed a decree recognizing Perrier as a natural mineral water from the spring that Hannibal had discovered at Vergèze. In 1898 a physician called Louis-Eugène Perrier started to bottle and market the water, before selling his business to St John Harmsworth, a member of the wealthy Rothermere publishing family. Harmsworth sold the spa but continued to bottle its water. He renamed it “Perrier water”, put it in a distinctive green bottle … and the rest is history.
In the 20th and 21st centuries, with bottled water increasingly perceived as a convenient, safe quality and an alternative to soda, and technological innovation making large-scale production possible, the industry has experienced huge global growth. Vittel revolutionized the market by launching the first plastic bottle in 1968. Each of Nestle Waters’ 8 historic brands retains its own identity, taste and health benefits today, just as each one remains steeped in its local history, and proud to have written a chapter in the story of the Nestlé group.
Related links :
Key Dates in History