The year was 1905 in Columbus, Georgia. The Hatcher Grocery Co, a family
wholesale grocery business, purchased bottled drinks from a local
bottler and resold them to its customers. Mr. Hatcher requested
commission or compensation for handling the drinks and a dispute arose
because of this from the bottler. Mr. Hatcher then came to a conclusion
to buy no more cases from outside and produce and bottle his own drinks
under his own labels.
A young graduate pharmacist, Claud A. Hatcher began by creating his own
soft drinks in the basement of his grocery business. Originally called
the Union Bottling Works, the first line of beverages was named Royal
Crown, a ginger ale and the first cola was called Chero-Cola. Also
produced were Royal Crown Ginger Ale and Royal Crown Strawberry. It
remained Union Bottling Works until the name changed to Chero-Cola Co,
and expansion led to a decision to incorporate the company. A charter
was granted by Judge S. Price Gilbert in Muscogee County Superior Court
of Columbus in 1912. Chero-Cola was to manufacture a line of syrups and
concentrates to be sold to franchised bottlers under trademarks owned by
Chero-Cola Co. Following years showed steady growth in sales, profits
and company assets.
An application filed in April of 1914 to register the Chero-Cola
trademark instituted a law suit by Coca-Cola that lasted years. In fact,
litigation continued in one form or another until 1944 when it was won,
setting for all times the right to use the word "cola" in the
name of its beverages.
Then came WWI and the Food Administration's limitations on sugar usage.
In response to this, Chero-Cola Co established and operated its own
sugar refinery, using raw sugar it purchased from Cuba, operating for
about three years. The sugar the refinery furnished did not meet the
full needs of the company and was supplemented by the purchase of
refined sugar. After filling to capacity every company warehouse in
Columbus, the price of sugar dropped to a low of eight cents a pound in
December of 1920.
To compensate, common stock was sold to raise capital during the years
1922-1924, however it was not until 1926 that the debts were finally
settled. It was the company's continuous growth prior to the sugar
shortage and depression that generated confidence in the business
and its management, enabling the financing which enabled it to survive.
Some other bottling companies were not as lucky.
During this time, Chero-Cola Co made a basic change in its manufacturing
that has continued to the present day. Before, products were made and
shipped as bottling syrup, with all the ingredients, including sugar,
already added. The bottler had to only add water and carbonation. Now
Its products shipped as concentrates, requiring the bottler to add sugar
and water to the concentrate. One gallon of concentrate made 26 gallons
of soft drink syrup resulting in savings of both container and freight
costs, and giving the beverage a fresher taste.
When franchising bottling plants began in 1912, the first plants were in
the southeast, with additions of about 25 new bottlers each year prior
to WWI. The war and economy halted further efforts to expand. As from
the beginning, the company, seeking to establish bottlers on a sound and
permanent basis, had never been willing to grant a franchise or sell it
products to just any bottler willing to accept them. Even so, by the end
of 1921, there were over 200 plants in the organization and by 1925,
there were 315 plants in 14 southern states. During 1926 and 1927,
additional plants were added, bringing the total to 463.
In 1924, Claud Hatcher overheard a route salesman enter the plant one
day and describe a competitors tall bottle as being
"knee-high." This phrase, to the receptive mind of Claud
Hatcher, became Nehi, beginning the line of fruit favours which became
so successful that in 1928 the company changed its name for the second
time, from Chero-Cola Co. to the Nehi
The Nehi Corp. was listed on the New York Curb Exchange. The company's
second major crisis occurred--the stock market crash of October 1929.
Sales of Nehi Corp. dropped one million dollars in 1930 from a
previous year's high of $3.7 million. Sales continued downward
until the bottom was reached in 1932, the only year in which the company
had ever lost money. In the years following, expansion was made in the
areas where there was no distribution and its smaller unprofitable
plants were consolidated, creating a stronger organization.
By December 31, 1933, the business was just beginning to stabilize when
another tragedy struck, Claud A. Hatcher died suddenly.
When H. R. Mott took office in 1934, having been with the company since
1920 and vice-president of the Nehi Corp for several years, he was
welcomed by a great amount of debt. His wish was to make the company
debt free as quickly as possible, and keep it that way, by streamlining
operations, obtaining credit extensions, and cutting expenses. A year
later, he had achieved his goal.
During this year, Mott felt the company needed an improved cola product,
and called the company chemist, Rufus Kamm, to make one. Six months
later, a new cola concentrate was sent for selective market testing. It
was successful and given the brand name of Hatcher's original ginger
ale, Royal Crown. A Nehi bottler named Grubb from Dothan, Alabama was
one of the first to bottle the new Royal Crown Cola,
later abbreviated to "RC".
By 1940, when H.R. Mott moved up to Chairman of the Board and
relinquished the Presidency of Nehi Corp to C.C. Colbert, the company
was profitable and growing fast. 1940 was also the year that Nehi stock
was listed on the New York Stock Exchange, with the company's products
available in 47 of the 48 states.. C.C. Colbert served as president of
the company from 1940 to 1955, during which time he directed the company
in its most rapid expansion of sales and profits to date.
During the years of World War II, the Nehi Corporation and its
bottlers were again limited in their growth. But in 1946, Nehi Corp
accelerated tremendously, enhancing its advertising by using
entertainment celebrities. Bing Crosby, Joan Crawford (before
inheriting Pepsi), Bob Hope, Linda Darnell, Joan Caulfield, Barbara
Stanwyk, Rita Hayworth, Dorothy Lamour, Ann Sheridan, Gary Cooper,
Lauren Bacall, June Haver, Claudette Colbert, Mary Martin,
Veronica Lake, Jeanette MacDonald, Paulette Goddard, Lisabeth Scott
(who also did a Pepsi ad) in the 40's and Art Linkletter in the 60's.
Robert Ripley was on the air for Royal Crown Cola every Friday evening
on CBS. The "Saturday Evening Post" and "Good
Housekeeping" carried color advertisements for Royal Crown Cola.
In 1947, Hedy Lamarr was pictured in point of purchase signs.
Mr. Colbert was succeeded as president in 1955 by Wilbur H. Glenn, who
remained president of the company until April, 1965. The Nehi Corp also
underwent its third name change to Royal Crown Cola Co. And its history
carries on. Royal Crown Cola, Nehi and a later product, Diet Rite Cola,
are still bottled today. But it is the early years that hold the
attraction for the collector of soda memorabilia.