Written By: Shelby Mitchell
On May 8, the world’s largest soft-drink company Coca-Cola celebrated its 128th birthday.
It was on this day in 1886 that the first “bottle of happiness” was created by an Atlanta Pharmacist, Dr. John Pemberton.
Preceding his death in 1888, just two years after creating what was to become the world’s No. 1 soft drink, Dr. Pemberton sold portions of his business to Atlanta businessman, Asa G. Candler.
Under Mr. Candler’s leadership, distribution of Coca‑Cola expanded to soda fountains beyond Atlanta and eventually worked its way south to Valdosta, Ga.
In 1897, the second oldest bottling company in the United States was given the name Valdosta Coca-Cola Bottling Works. This came just three years after Joseph A. Biedenharn installed bottling machinery in his Mississippi soda fountain, becoming the first to bottle Coca-Cola.
Eugene Robers “E.R.” Barber and his brother-in-law J.F. Holmes teamed up with Coca-Cola and began bottling in June 1897 at the Valdosta location.
Barber decided to sell the business to Holmes in 1923 after he assisted with improvements of the bottling and capping process due to his chemistry background.
“At first we would include only six bottles of Coca-Cola in each crate. The drink was well-accepted and our customers requested larger shipments of Coca-Cola,” said Barber in a 1954 interview with the Valdosta Daily Times. “However, we soon discovered that we were running into a great deal of trouble because of the fact that the rubber washer on the stopper caused a not-too-wholesome odor in the drink after it had been bottled for a period of 10 days to two weeks.”
A new bottling machine was invented by the old Crown, Cork, and Seal Company and an order was placed for two of these machines around 1900.
Valdosta Coca-Cola Bottling Works was able to only obtain one due to the large amount of orders, but salesman advised that the machine purchased was the first one sold in Georgia, giving Valdosta an advantage in the state.
The machine was put to work as soon as it arrived and was used to bottle Coca-Cola exclusively. By 1925 the machine was used to bottle Orange Crush and Red Race Ginger ale as well.
Holmes decided to pass his leadership to Frank Barron of Rome, Ga in 1965. A few years later, Barron decided to stop bottling Coke, and chose to make the Valdosta site a distribution center instead.
The company celebrated its 100 anniversary on Oct. 15, 1997. At this time the company had gone from producing the original six and a half ounce bottles to become a distributor of almost 100 Coca-Cola products.
Jean Holmes Greene is the granddaughter of J.F Holmes Sr. and spoke about how she felt about the family business in a Valdosta Daily Times article during centennial celebration.
“It was a family business back until my father (J.F. Holmes Jr.) sold it in 1965,” said Greene. “They told me I took my first steps for a Co-Cola bottle and you don’t dare bring a Pepsi to my house.”
Just three short years ago, the Valdosta Daily Times announced the closing of the company after 84 years of continuous production.
Production shifted to a plant in Rome, Ga. as a part of a centralization process dictated by the economics of bottling operations.
As the southern tradition of Coca-Cola continues worldwide, the city of Valdosta will forever hold the historic legacy that impacted the success of the fizzy concoction.