Last week I shared some of Ray McDiarmid’s memories of Coke’s business development in Sylacauga. Ray, the pharmacist at Dixie Drug in Sylacauga for many years, along with his Dad, Dr. Red McDiarmid, were in a position to know many of the people who worked at Coca-Cola in Sylacauga since the Coca-Cola warehouse was located next to Dixie Drug on North Broadway. Ray remembers so many of the people connected with the Coca-Cola Company in Sylacauga as well as the big trucks that delivered Cokes here from Anniston and Oxford.
An interesting story in the Sylacauga News in August, 1929, was entitled “Bridge Falls on Talladega Road.” Ray quotes from that article: “It seems the old covered bridge between Sylacauga and Sycamore fell in after a heavy truck belonging to the Coca-Cola Bottling Company ran over it. Travel was detoured over the old highway into Sycamore and Talladega.” By the mid 1960‘s the Sylacauga Coca-Cola Warehouse moved to its new location on Highway 21 between Sylacauga and Sycamore. KPL Industries located in the original warehouse on South Broadway.
One memorable thing about Coca-Cola from the days it was sold as a patent medicine/soda fountain drink at Jacob’s Pharmacy in Atlanta is the way it has been promoted down through the years. In the beginning coupons for free drinks and newspaper advertisements promoted the product, but advertisements and merchandise became so memorable that they became collectors’ items. Coca-Cola became an iconic American symbol from those years in Atlanta right after the Civil War and on into the 21st century. At first it was primarily due to the promotional efforts of Asa Candler, an Atlanta businessman who bought most of Josh Pemberton’s stock in the business after a couple of years.
Mark Pendergrast deals at length with this subject in his book, For God, Country, and Coca-Cola which is available at B.B. Comer Library. Pendergrast attempts to answer many questions about how this drink achieved such prominence rather quickly. Marketed at first as medicinal and an aide to relieve headache and nervous disorders, it drifted away from its emphasis on medicinal qualities to generalities like emphasizing its refreshing, picker-upper qualities. Celebrities and politicians were used in advertisements as were athletes like Ty Cobb and Mean Joe Green. In his “Hey, Kid, catch!” Joe Green tosses a little boy his jersey who has handed him a Coke in a stadium tunnel. Such popular commercials portrayed the message that Coke crossed the lines of age, sex, race, and economic status to become America’s drink. It was in 1968 that Coke was promoted as the Real Thing to hammer home the idea that Coca-Cola was for young, old, rich, poor, men, women, and even children. Pendergrast even suggests that alcoholic drinks are economically consumed as the rich drink champagne and the poor man, beer; but everyone, everywhere, drinks Coke. In 1970-71 the Hilltop Commercial promoted Coke as the Real Thing and, “I would like to buy the world a Coke” became a famous ad. In 2000 the slogans became Always Coca-Cola and Open Happiness. In our state in the late 50’s 60’s and 70’s Bear Bryant commercials for Coca-Cola on John Forney’s afternoon shows with Coach Bryant kept the iconic drink in the public’s eye. Unlike today, Coach Bryant would always drink from the bottle on that desk to make this commercial, the “real thing.”
Ray McDiarmid writes, “In the early 1960’s the Sylacauga operation went into the vending machine business to go along with their drink distribution. They sold Cokes, candy, and other snacks along with sandwiches made at Dixie drug in vending machines placed at Avondale-Sylacauga, Avondale Sycamore, Avondale Bon Air, at two quarries, and other industrial places in the area.” Any flavored soft drink made with carbonated water came to be called dopes. Before vending machines Avondale had the dope house for workers to purchase break items like Coke. My Dad took a second part- time job providing these drinks and snacks to mill workers from a little cart which I remember being called, the Dope Wagon.
I remember the Coca-Cola wooden rulers that were given to elementary school children in the late forties and fifties. They reminded children of the Golden rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
My own memories of Coca-Cola in Sylacauga always include Tom Morrison. He and his wife, Landers, who taught school in Sylacauga were parents of two children, Mike and Meg. They attended First Baptist Church and were very active in church and community life. Mr. Morrison had a big smile and was a good testament to hard work, for he seemed always rushed. He was a route salesman, assistant manager, and then manager of the local Coca-Cola operation. I have contacted Mike who also is with the Coca-Cola Company in the Birmingham area. Later perhaps we can learn his thoughts on the operation in Sylacauga. It was not so long ago at that.