Double Cola, historically smaller in scope but initially larger in drink size, was introduced in 1933 by the company led by Chattanoogan Charles D. Little. However, his company traced its beginnings to the Good Grape Co. that originally manufactured a grape soda drink beginning in 1922. As a result, the Double Cola Co. is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. The observance includes “100 days of Double Cola,” which will feature a variety of sponsored activities lasting into mid-October. The company is also looking for members of the community who have a connection to Double Cola or a nostalgic Double Cola story to tell.
Some company history at the website and some information found in some old newspaper clippings and city directories at the Chattanooga Public Library say that the Good Grape Co. was started a century ago by Mr. Little and Joe S. Foster.
A 1922 city directory does not list Mr. Foster, who has not been mentioned in company histories like Mr. Little or later official Charles W. Wheland, Mr. Foster’s son-in-law. But it does say that the Good Grape Co. manufacturing plant was located at 14 E. 14th St., not far from the current Chattanooga Choo-Choo complex. The manager of the plant was listed as Marcus Schwartz.
Mr. Little, who in 1922 lived at 211 Morningside Drive in Ferger Place off Main Street, got into the soft drink business due to his interest in consuming news instead of refreshing beverages. Growing up in Georgia, the Forsythe native began delivering newspapers at the age of 8 and later went to work with the Parker Railway News Co., traveling throughout the South. News company head T.C. Parker also owned a beverage bottling plant, and that got Mr. Little interested in bottling.
Although the historical information is a little vague, one article said that Mr. Litle had several plants that bottled a beverage in Georgia. It is known he was involved with Chero-Cola at one point and had moved to Chattanooga during World War I.
Once he started Good Grape, he was also involved in forming the Seminole Flavor Company in the 1920s in order to create other product lines. Why the Seminole name was used instead of something with a more local connection might require more research.
Mr. Little experimented with a cola drink and came up with the marketing plan that included a 12-ounce bottle, which was twice the size of other colas popular at the time. Its name became Double Cola. The company had earlier introduced Marvel Cola and Jumbo Cola and was a pioneer at having a painted name label fused onto the bottle instead of using paper labels, as was often popular.
After the Double Cola drink became popular, the name of the company was changed to Double Cola in the early 1950s. By 1954, the company had moved its offices and syrup manufacturing to the familiar building off South Broad Street more recently used by Chattem/Sanofi. That post-World War II style building was designed by the Selmon T. Franklin architectural firm and built by contractor Mark K. Wilson.
Before that, the company had continued its concentrate manufacturing operations at East 14th Street through World War II before moving to a plant at 1607 Central Avenue, where it continued its bottling operations after opening the South Broad Street facility.
Before moving to the new facility, the Seminole corporate offices were at such places as 1212 McCallie Avenue in the late 1930s and the fourth floor of the Hamilton National Bank Building (which now is the covered First Horizon structure) by 1950, city directories say.
Mr. Foster continued as a company official for several years along with G.W. Tribble, and he later moved into Mr. Little’s old Ferger Place home at 211 Morningside Drive. So, this home has double history related to Double Cola.
Mr. Little lived at 902 West Brow Road on Lookout Mountain for more than four decades until his death in 1978 at the age of 90. Mr. Little’s son-in-law, Charles W. Wheland, had joined the company in 1945. He was the grandson of Wheland Foundry founder G.W. Wheland and had also done some tannery and foundry engineering work. The Baylor School and Wharton School of Business graduate and civic leader married Frances Elizabeth Little in 1939. He died in 1976.
Double Cola was sold to Fairmont Foods in 1962, and now it is owned by KJ International. It moved out of its South Broad Street facility in 1999, and today its corporate office is at 537 Market Street in downtown Chattanooga. In recent years, the company introduced Brewski beer and alcoholic drinks to its line and reintroduced the Jumbo line of grape and fruit sodas in the 1980s.
Among the other historic moments, Ski citrus soda was introduced in 1956, while the company also pioneered the returnable 16-ounce bottle in 1957.
Many a Chattanooga baby boomer grew up drinking one of those 16-ounce Double Colas along with other popular soft drinks. And knowing the familiar headquarters was on South Broad Street often added to the enjoyment for many.
Besides its local and regional connection, Double Cola has also tried to have an international presence over the years. A 1955 newspaper story writes of plans to open bottling operations in Indonesia. At the time, the company had 45 foreign bottling plants, including some in Mexico and Canada.
Besides its own unique history, Double Cola has also had a distinctive taste that was perhaps a little more peppery than other cola soft drinks. But most people found the sipping experience very palatable. To this day, the same formula is used.
It is a familiar taste to people also familiar with the company’s ties to Chattanooga. Despite being in the proverbial shadow of the larger Coca-Cola company’s oft-repeated local history, this company that was also made visible by its conspicuous building in the shadow of Lookout Mountain has also enjoyed success for a century.
by John Shearer