Chattanooga and Coca-Cola

Chattanooga and Coca-Cola

December 7th, 2011 in Opinion Free Press

Everybody knows about Coca-Cola, or "Coke" as many people call it.

It went worldwide in the 1920s and '30s, and it expanded its international operations when more overseas bottling plants were established to supply Coca-Cola to American troops during World War II.

But how many of us remember that Coca-Cola "in bottles" began in Chattanooga?

The subject of Coca-Cola is in the news today because the Atlanta-based company has been making a white, limited-edition Coke can as a new way to highlight its efforts on behalf of polar bear protection. Some like the white cans; others apparently prefer the more familiar red holiday cans.

But while we all know about Coca-Cola today, let's look back a little to Coke's history, in which Chattanooga was deeply involved.

Coca-Cola -- "the world's best-known taste" -- originated in 1886 in a kettle in the back yard of Dr. John Stythe Pemberton, an Atlanta pharmacist.

Pemberton concocted and began selling in an Atlanta pharmacy a flavored soda-water drink that would come to be known to billions of people as Coca-Cola.

Chattanooga got into the world of Coca-Cola in the summer of 1899.

Chattanoogans Benjamin F. Thomas and Joseph B. Whitehead went to Atlanta to meet Asa Candler, who had bought the Coca-Cola Co. a few years earlier.

Thomas and Whitehead had the idea of bottling Coca-Cola -- and not just selling it across pharmacy counters.

Candler wasn't convinced it would work. But after the Chattanooga men's persistent efforts, the story goes, Candler agreed to sell them the bottling rights for Coca-Cola -- for the not-exactly-princely sum of $1!

Coca-Cola really began to take off in popularity after Thomas and Whitehead -- in collaboration with Chattanoogan John T. Lupton -- opened the world's first Coca-Cola bottling operation at what then was 17 Market St. -- an area now known as Patten Parkway.

Of course, over the decades Coke has become known throughout the world for its distinctive, pale-green, contoured bottles, as well as for its bright red cans.

Gary Davis, vice president of the Chattanooga Coca-Cola Bottling Co., says the local Coke company now puts out 14 million cases of soft drinks every year!

More than 1 billion of the limited-edition white cans are on the market, but more of the limited-edition red holiday cans -- also featuring polar bears -- are being added to satisfy consumers' requests.

Millions of people around the world drink Coca-Cola -- "the pause that refreshes."

But many local folks also know that Coca-Cola is an economically and culturally important part of Chattanooga's past -- and present.