old Coca-Cola bottling plants

as they appear today

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Gone are the days when nearly every small town had their name on the bottom of a Coke bottle and the local Coca-Cola Bottling Plant was a proud family owned business.

The bottling of Coca-Cola began in 1899, when Benjamin F. Thomas and Joseph B. Whitehead of Chattanooga, Tennessee, secured the exclusive rights to bottle and sell Coca-Cola in in nearly the entire country. They soon joined with John T. Lupton, and began to develop what would become the  independent bottling system.

Lacking the money needed to build a nationwide system, they sought local entrepreneurs with capital and granted them perpetual contracts to bottle and sell Coca-Cola within their exclusive territories.

By 1909, nearly 400 crude Coca-Cola bottling plants were operating, most of them family-owned businesses. Territories were generally small – determined by the distance a person could ride on horseback and return in the same day.  This equated to roughly 30 miles from the center of town.

As transportation progressed, so did the bottling franchises. Over 1200 were in operation by 1925. Most of them were still locally owned and operated and they were quickly outgrowing their original buildings.

By the mid 1930's many plants had outgrown their primitive early quarters and were building proud new buildings that showcased the latest architecture. The bottling plant was a source of civic pride, and a symbol of local business leadership.

The bottling business thrived through the war years, and remained an icon on the local landscape until the late 1960's. At that time many long-time bottlers were feeling the pressure caused by evolving methods of distribution and changing customer needs.

The fact was that the small local bottler was simply no longer needed. Transportation and ease of distribution had made the multiple small town plants obsolete. The soon consolidated or became distributors, abandoning their plant buildings in the center of town.

By the 80's they were either sitting empty and slowly deteriorating or trying to adapt to current needs and house new business ventures. This sad reality is almost unchanged today. These architectural snapshots of our recent past are being lost one by one as the years progress.

Here – thanks to talented photographers with an eye towards preserving Roadside Americana – we have created a photo archive to share as many of these local icons as we can .  .  . before it is too late to save them.