The original Coca Cola was developed on May 8, 1886, at Jacob’s Pharmacy in Atlanta, Georgia, by Pharmacist John Seth Pemberton. It was sold at the soda fountain as a temperance drink, a patent medicine, for $.05 a glass for such aliments as headache, nausea, and heartburn. The original syrup was carbonated water mixed with cocaine from Coca leaves and caffeine from Kola nuts. Frank Roberson, Pemberton’s partner and bookkeeper. gave it its name from these two ingredients. Thus, Coca Cola. No one could have guessed from that first year’s sales at the soda fountain, an average of nine glasses a day at $.05 a glass that Coca Cola would become so wildly successful and become the giant industry that it is today.
Much of the article this week was written by Sylacauga historian, Ray McDiarmid. Ray grew up around Coca Cola in Sylacauga. Ray wrote, “The Coca Cola Company rented a building on lower Broadway and opened a warehouse in Sylacauga in June 1929. This was the building located north of what was later known as Red McDiarmid’s Place or Dixie Drugs which was located at the northeast corner of Broadway and Eighth Street.
The business became a large operation furnishing Coke products in Sylacauga and adjoining areas and even into Columbiana and Shelby County. The Coke products were manufactured and distributed from a plant in Anniston, AL, and later from a new plant in Oxford, AL. Coke was delivered to the Sylacauga warehouse early each morning on a large 18-wheeler truck. There were six or eight delivery trucks stationed at the Sylacauga warehouse. The route trucks delivered Coca Cola, Diet Coke, Sprite, Diet Sprite, Dr. Pepper, Diet Dr. Pepper, Orange, Grape, Mellow Yellow, and much later Power Ade, bottled water, and pre mix in tanks.” Perhaps you remember the days when the small Coke bottles had the plant city on the bottom of the bottle.
As you have already concluded, Ray McDiarmid was not around in 1929, so his history is what he remembers in his lifetime, as Dr. Red’s son in that iconic store, Dixie Drug. Ray succeeded his Dad in that business and became the Pharmacist at the store that all Sylacauga also remembers for its Soda Fountain, its destination point for purchasing school books (which were not free then). An editorial, off-the-subject comment about that is when books became free, parents/students were not so careful to take care of them and keep them clean. Anyway, we all remember Dixie Drug and the wonderful Toyland that was opened there in the sixties.
One thing I remember from my childhood is the drink machine at Jones Bakery in Sylacauga. I think, but am not certain, it only contained Coke. But this much I do remember is that it was only $.05 in the fifties. In our little town a quarter would take you to the double feature movie on Saturday as well as buy you popcorn and a Coke. Ray sheds a little light on that when he says, “Coke was $.05 in 1888, in 1900, and in 1930. In fact, after the first bottle of Coke was sold, you could still buy one for $.05 for a very long time. One of the reasons the price stayed the same was that Coca Cola had a lot of Coke machines, and they were only set up to take a nickel.”
Ray McDiarmid, continues, “Mr. Van Gene Nelson was the first manager of the Sylacauga Coca Cola warehouse in the late 1940’s. Mr. Tom Morrison was a route salesman and the Assistant Manager. He became Manager later when Mr. Nelson was promoted to the Anniston Plant. Other route salesmen I remember were: Buck Jenkins, George Matson, James Kelley, Tom Robinson, Calvin Cunningham, Billy Williams, and Eddie Nivens, Jr. Pete Rich was a route salesman after serving as line coach for two Sylacauga football teams. Mr. Gene Smallwood from Alexandria, Alabama, drove the transport truck from Anniston each morning. Mr. Newton Johnson of Talladega was an excellent repair man who worked on Coca Cola drink boxes, ice machines, etc.”
I know you are amazed and grateful to Ray McDiarmid for his memories of Coke in Sylacauga. Ray McDiarmid’s memory is a Sylacauga treasure, and there is more to come next week. There are some good stories about that time when things were kinder, gentler, and when Coca Cola was $.05 a bottle. It was not so long ago at that.