published Wednesday, April 17th, 2013

Chattanooga, Coke go back 114 years

Chattanoogans and Coke have a 114-year connection, according to The Coca-Cola Co.

After Atlanta pharmacist Dr. John Stith Pemberton concocted the recipe for Coke in 1886 and Georgia businessman Asa Candler acquired sole ownership of Coca-Cola for $2,300, two Chattanoogans came into the picture.

In July 1899, Candler and Chattanooga lawyers Benjamin F. Thomas and Joseph B. Whitehead reached a contract for the world's first large-scale bottling franchise -- for $1. The contract gave Thomas and Whitehead exclusive rights to bottle and sell Coca-Cola everywhere in the United States.

Later that year, another Chattanooga lawyer, John T. Lupton joined Thomas and Whitehead to set up the first bottling plant specifically for Coca-Cola. The plant was located at 19 Market Square, which is now Patten Parkway in Chattanooga.

In 1900, Whitehead, Thomas and Lupton divided territories to expand bottling operations across the country. The early 1900s saw Coca-Cola bottling franchises go to many Chattanoogans as well as to relatives of area citizens.

In 1902, Chattanoogan Crawford Johnson went to Birmingham, Ala., to set up a franchise that's now Coca-Cola United. In the 1920s, the Chattanooga franchise was acquired by the family of Johnson, and it still holds the Chattanooga Coca-Cola Bottling Co. today.

Meanwhile, Thomas' venture resulted in creation of the Coca-Cola Bottling Co. (Thomas) Inc. In 1974, the bottling rights of Coca-Cola (Thomas) were acquired by The Coca-Cola Bottling Co.

Lupton's participation in bottling the soft drink was carried on by his grandson, J.T. (Jack) Lupton.

In 1986, Lupton sold his family bottling operations that included Houston, Dallas and Denver to Coca-Cola Co. for $1.2 billion.

James F. Johnston was another early and key bottler of Coke. His grandson, Summerfield K. Johnston Jr., sold the bottling operations, including those in Cleveland, Tenn., and they also became a key part of Coca-Cola Enterprises in 1991. He served for a decade as CEO of CCE.

In addition, J. Frank Harrison Jr., was long involved in bottling and his grandmother was a member of the Lupton family.

J. Frank Harrison III, a Baylor School alumnus, heads Coca-Cola Bottling Consolidated in Charlotte, N.C.

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