Soda companies arrived early in Sumter

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Three major cola companies and a fourth soft drink company are part of the early history of Sumter.

These companies are Coca-Cola, Pepsi-Cola, Royal Crown and Dr Pepper (the non-cola). The intent of this research is not to present a comprehensive investigation of the history of these enterprises, but to discuss their arrival in Sumter. Also highlighted are those entrepreneurs whose insight helped bring these companies here. Because of the volume of data and the number of photos available in The Sumter Item archives, this article will be presented in two parts. This first part addresses the presence of Pepsi-Cola and Coca-Cola in Sumter.

The Pepsi-Cola Co. located in New Bern, North Carolina, was interested in locating a syrup distribution depot and modern bottling plant in Sumter as early as September 1920. Company officials were convinced that this city would be a satisfactory point for a distribution center for this cola's syrup. It was estimated that to build such a plant would cost about $100,000. Company officials were to come to Sumter to evaluate this possibility.

Pepsi-Cola was originated by Dr. Caleb D. Bradham in 1896; it was a beverage "made from the essence of pure fruits and other wholesome ingredients and is absolutely free from preservatives. It was bottled and sold in every state in the U.S., Canada, Cuba and England; more than one billion bottles of Pepsi Cola were sold in 1920."

A Pepsi-Cola distributing plant opened at 9 Council St. in August of 1937 and was managed by D.A. Young. It was later announced by J.M. Coble, president of the Pepsi-Cola Bottling Co. of Columbia, that his company would construct a plant in Sumter in 1955. This facility would have a 15-county franchise and would handle distribution within a 25-mile radius. This new plant would be in the industrial area off Boulevard and Plowden Mill roads and would employ 50 people.

"The Carolina Coca-Cola Bottling Co. was started here in 1919 with A.T. Heath as president. Its growth and expansion since that time has been nothing short of phenomenal. A bottling plant was operated in Chester, in addition to the big plant in Sumter. Warehouses for the distribution of the bottled Coca-Cola and soft drinks were maintained in Camden, Lancaster and Lake City. These warehouses were supplied by the Sumter plant; huge trucks were used for hauling the crates of bottled beverages."

In 1932 the Carolina Coca-Cola plant operated in nine South Carolina counties including Sumter, Clarendon, Lee, Williamsburg, Kershaw, Lancaster, Chester and parts of Fairfield and Florence.

"The Sumter plant was a model of efficiency, sanitation and beauty. For three years following 1929, the plant has been given a rating of 100 percent on its annual inspection. This inspection covered sanitation, product and building. Few plants in the South could boast of such a record. The local plant reached a capacity of 84,000 bottles per day, the equal of any plant in the state. In volume produced, the plant ranked third in the state. The complete family of Coca-Cola soft drinks were bottled in Sumter."

Visitors to the city were struck with the beauty of the garden located on the east side of the plant. Great expenditures of time and money were spent developing this garden, but the result was well worth the expense. A great deal of credit for this beauty spot was accorded to Mrs. A.T. Heath, who gave much of her time in planning and supervising the work involved in its development.

Plans were announced for the construction of a new building to be known as the Community Room for the bottling company; work was scheduled to be completed by October of 1941. The structure was to include a large rear section used in the storage of crated Coca-Cola, "and the front section was to include an assembly or dining room that would seat 200, a completely equipped electrical kitchen and lounge rooms for ladies and men. The front section would be used for meetings and dinners of the Coca-Cola organization and would also be available free of charge to civic clubs and organizations. A chef would be available at all times for the preparation of meals."

The building's dimensions were 60-by-115 feet and included a lounge, dining room and kitchen. This new facility was to be completely air-conditioned, sport indirect fluorescent lighting and feature steam heat. The kitchen measured 12-by-18 feet and featured a large commercial electric range, extra grills, electric frying pots and a large electric refrigerator. The front fa ade, designed by James and Durant architectural firm, consisted of glass brick, stucco and plate glass.

Information and photographs from The Sumter Item Archives.

Reach Sumter Item Archivist Sammy Way @waysammy@yahoo.com