Dr Pepper, Royal Crown Cola early comers to Sumter

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In addition to Coca-Cola and Pepsi-Cola, there were other soda bottling companies that were early arrivals in Sumter; however popular they were in the mid-20th century, none of the Sumter plants exist currently. The following excerpts from The Sumter Item archives chronicles their tenure in the area.

"Though only a few years old, the Royal Crown Bottling Co. of Sumter is the baby of an old established business concern occupying high places in the soft drink beverage world. The parent company, Nehi Corp., dates to about 1905 when it was established in Columbus, Georgia, by C.A. Hatcher, former wholesale grocer. In its initial period, the concern was known as Chero-Cola Co."

In the 1940s, the Nehi Corp. had approximately 600 bottlers throughout the entire continental United States and in Puerto Rico and Hawaii. The Nehi Corp. franchised to its bottlers diverse products including Royal Crown Cola, Chero - formerly Chero-Cola - and a well-known line of Par-T-Pak 32-ounce beverages.

"The Royal Crown Bottling plant of Sumter opened its Caldwell Street doors on March 26, 1938. The distribution of its products was begun with only two delivery trucks. Soon the company owned and operated six delivery trucks, one utility truck and one advertising truck."

The company distributed its products in Sumter, Lee, Clarendon and Kershaw counties. During World War II the company was restricted in its use of sugar and bottle caps and found it necessary to curtail its production (producing only Royal Crown and Chero) for the duration of the war. Plant manager M.B. Morrow noted that their allocation of sugar did not come close in meeting the demand for these two products. "Despite wartime difficulties, Mr. Morrow declared that the policy of the Nehi Corp. and that of the Sumter plant would be one of rigidly maintaining the standard of quality in all its products.

"To do this," he said, "means there will be many times when our customers will be unable to have as much Royal Crown and Chero as they would like, but they can be assured that when they do find it will be the cola that's 'Best By Taste-Test.'"

"A comparatively new business concern growing with Sumter is the Dr Pepper Bottling Co., manufacturers of a carefully blended beverage whose distinctive flavor is winning many new friends daily. The new bottling plant was located at 115 S. Washington St. (the building remains at that location) and was ultra modern in every respect. The Dr Pepper Bottling Co. was one of Sumter's fastest growing and popular industries, having increased its capacity by 200 percent since its establishment here in July of 1936."

Research indicates that the formula for Dr Pepper was created in 1885; the newly constructed building began distributing this product throughout Sumter, Kershaw, Lee, Clarendon, Williamsburg and Georgetown counties. The company utilized four trucks that traveled their routes three times a week. W.S. Sowell, a native of Birmingham, Alabama, was manager of the Dr Pepper plant until he was ordered to active duty in 1943. While serving in the armed forces, Mr. Sowell was replaced by his mother, Mrs. Lucy Sowell, who managed the company with the help of C.K. Dudley.

Under Mrs. Sowell's leadership, the company experienced phenomenal growth as more and more Sumterites "were learning to pause at 10, 2, and 4 to enjoy Dr Pepper."

Information and photos for this article from The Sumter Item Archives.

Reach Sumter Item Archivist Sammy Way at waysammy@yahoo.com or (803) 774-1294.