If you think that the Cola Wars started in the 1980s when the Coca Cola and Pepsi companies went head to head with massive advertising campaigns, new flavors and promising promotions, you would be quite incorrect.

A century ago in the spring of 1913, the marketing wars between the makers of a variety of soda water manufacturers were just beginning to heat up.

John Pemberton, a Columbus, Georgia pharmacist, formulated his Pemberton’s French Wine Coca in his Eagle Drug and Chemical Company drugstore in “The Fountain City.”  In the mid 1880s, when Atlanta and Fulton County passed prohibition legislation, Pemberton responded by developing Coca-Cola,  a nonalcoholic version of his coca beverage. The new drink was first sold at Jacob's Pharmacy in Atlanta, Georgia, on May 8, 1886, 127 years ago.

Prior to the sale of Coca Cola in Dublin, small private companies like Prince & Kellam and the Dublin Artesian Bottling Company, sold their own versions of soda water in the Emerald City.  The Artesian Bottling Company, under the management of George Elbert, received 30,000 bottles in a single day at its plant on East Madison Street in 1905.

Three of Georgia’s pioneer bottlers were sons of James Russell Holmes and Alice Hester of Laurens County.  Robert H. Holmes, Joseph F. Holmes and Charlton B. Holmes left their homes in Laurens County and moved to South Georgia, where they enjoyed long and successful careers in the bottling business.  Robert, the elder brother, moved to Valdosta.  Joseph followed in 1896 joining Robert.  Charlton worked with both of his brothers before moving to the nearby city of Tifton.  Other members of the Holmes family, Charles Wesley Holmes, Willie Holmes, Luman Holmes and Harmon Holmes, were long time employees of the Dublin Coca Cola plant. 

Although the Coca Cola Company had previously operated in Dublin for several years, it wasn’t until 1912 when the Dublin Coca Cola Bottling Company was officially incorporated by J.W. Geeslin of Dublin along with Herbert F. Haley and J. T. Lupton, who operated the main office of the business in Macon. 

It will be  said with some authority that the first Coca Cola bottling plant (ABOVE) was located just northeast of the corner of South Franklin Street and what was once Harrison Street and is now known as Hughes Street on the site of a Dublin Construction Company warehouse.  Geeslin established his highly popular ice cream plant on the site in 1920.

Coca Cola Company Employees, 1935

Pepsi Cola came into the market in 1903 when it was patented by Caleb Bradham.  It would be another five years before the first Pepsis were bottled in Middle Georgia, specifically in Macon in 1908.

By the end of the first decade of the 20th Century, Pepsi entered the Dublin market under the name of the Georgia Pepsi Cola Bottling Company in a plant located at the southwest corner of East Jackson and South Decatur Streets. BELOW  The company, under the management of Aldine Hawkins, added ice cream to its line of products to compete with the local Coca Cola plant.  Hawkins boasted that his employees  could manufacture 40 gallons of Hokey Pokey and other kinds of ice cream per hour.

Lime Cola Bottle 

Acme Bottling Works, located on Lawrence Street and operated by J.B. Karrant, was charged with violating the pure food and drug act and was not in business for very long. The Lime Cola Bottling Company was established here by Wilkes Roberts, T.J. Freeman, E.A. and J.E. Evans of Blakely in J.O. Barnes warehouse on Jefferson Street in 1916. By 1922, the company was out of business. 

Claud A. Hatcher, yet another Columbus pharmacist, developed a new soft drink in 1905.  In 1910, the company became known as the Chero Cola Company.  W.E. Vann and R.M. Campbell opened the first Chero Cola Bottling Company in Dublin in 1913.  In 1915, they were bought out by  Robert Davis and J.C. Mathis of Tennille.

T.J. Kelly came to work for the plant as a young man.  After serving  in World War I, Kelly came back to work for the plant.  He was promoted to manager when Mathis left for Sandersville in 1920.  At that time,  the plant’s capacity was 1000 cases per day or 24,000 bottles.  At full capacity, the Dublin plant could conceivably produce upwards of 7.5 million bottles of pop a year.

One distinctive feature of Chero Cola was that it was only sold in bottles and not sold  in soda fountains.  One less than distinctive feature of Chero Cola bottles, made by the Graham Glass Company of Evansville, Indiana, were their striking similarity to the Coca Cola bottles.

At the height of the cola wars between Coca Cola and Chero Cola, a 1921 court decision banned Chero Cola from using the word “cola” in their product’s name.    The court found evidence that particularly in Dublin, the bottles of the two companies were so similar in appearance that employees of both companies picked up each other’s empty bottles.  Nearly a decade and half  later,  Hatcher revived his business by starting the NEHI line of flavored drinks and changing the name of his original cola to Royal Crown Cola. 

Not everyone in Dublin was enthusiastically in favor of Coca Cola.  Alderman G.H. Williams, a diehard Republican,  proposed an annual $5,000  tax on businesses selling Coca Cola, which he proclaimed was irreparably injuring the people of the city.  Williams also sought to discourage the sellers of cigarettes and near bear. It will be noted here that Williams was adamantly opposed to another Georgia icon, “Gone With the Wind,” which he asserted would ruin the South.

Coca Cola Plant - South Jefferson Street, ca. 1940.

Locally, Coca Cola was the eventual winner in the Cola Wars.  A modern plant was built in the early 1940s on South Jefferson Street, across from the current Dublin Police Department. The company moved to its present site on East Jackson Street while Royal Crown Company moved into the former Coke Building, before moving to East Dublin into a building now occupied by Irish Moving and Storage.

A popular pastime of kids and adults alike began in the years of World War I when Coca Cola began embossing its  bottles with the names of their bottling companies around the country.  The first Dublin bottles arrived in the winter of 1917. 

And to all of those of you who are over the age of fifty, do you remember the days when you would collect old coke bottles and return them to the Coke Company or your nearest neighborhood grocery?  You know, the days when a crate of two dozen empty bottles would land you nearly a half dollar, good for a trip to a matinee movie, a small pop corn and a thirst quenching  fountain drink -Coca Cola of course -  or the price of a new baseball to play with on the sand lots.

The domination of the Dublin market by Coca Cola, Pepsi Cola and Royal Crown Colas did not deter other entrepreneurs from entering the market. Williams Bottling Company was established at the bend of South Jefferson on the site of Williams Body Shop. It’s Pop Kola and fruit flavored drinks were cheaper alternatives to those of the big three soda makers.

So whether you can’t beat “The Real Thing,”  prefer the “Great Taste of an RC” or if  you are member of “The Pepsi Generation,” remember that the fight for the best soft drink started a century ago during the Golden Age of the Emerald City an entire century ago.


GdubyaL said…
I have a straight side bottle with the embossing of "Haley & Co, Inc Macon, GA. The Inc is on the tail of a swirl similar to the one on the end of the "C" in Coca Cola. I am pontificating that Herbert F. Haley was bottling and selling soda out of a pharmacy setting either prior to or at the same time as he was working towards incorporating Coca Cola and establishing the corporate base in Macon. Would the fact that no one has any knowledge of this bottle mean it is a rare and valuable part of the history of Coke if I am correct in my educated guess? I hope to hear back soon as I think I have already spent my retirement!