When I received “An Empire Divided” by Billy Parker, I immediately noticed what a beautiful book it is. Billy and I have been friends since we attended Normal Park Elementary School, so I was prepared to like this new book about the Atlanta and Chattanooga family dynasties from the early days of Coca Cola. I was not, however, prepared to be so impressed by this book, nor to find it so very interesting, engaging, and entertaining. It is all of this and more.
Much of the history of these families, the intricate relationships and interrelationships, was new to me, even though I have lived in Chattanooga for 85 years, growing up with many Coca Cola stories, both fact and legend. Besides the interesting content, there are wonderful photographs and reproductions of Billy’s beautiful paintings related to the subject matter. His research on the dynasties in this 185-page book is very impressive; he spent 20 years researching and writing this book. He includes his sources in the bibliography, as well as a chronological account from 1886 until 1994, making it easier to put things into perspective.
Billy and I were writers for the Chattanooga Times years ago, so I was not surprised by the professional writing, but his storytelling style makes the book very difficult to put down.
The book begins with the Atlanta families, in particular with Asa Candler and the originator of the Coca Cola syrup, John Pemberton. Originally sold as a fountain drink, the syrup was mixed with carbonated water for a refreshing drink. In 1887, Candler bought the syrup rights from Pemberton for $2,000. Candler incorporated Coca Cola in 1892, issuing 500 shares valued at $200 each.
In 1898-99, Chattanooga families became involved when Ben Thomas and Joseph Whitehead were granted the rights to bottle the soda, incorporating the Coca Cola Bottling Company. The first official plant opened in Chattanooga in 1899. On July 21, 1899, Asa Candler agreed to a contract upon which the worldwide Coca Cola Bottling Company would rest.
The book expands to the other families involved through franchises, as well as to other support businesses. Some of these families involved included that of John T. Lupton, Jack Lupton, George Hunter, L.E. Montague, J. F. Johnston, and Frank Spurlock. By 1902, there were 123 authorized bottlers. In Atlanta, Robert Woodruff became involved, and that family’s story is included, as well.
The story becomes longer and more complicated as the company flourished worldwide, and “Empire Divided” includes several landmark lawsuits and interesting family machinations. I do not want to spoil it by revealing too much, only to say there are many intriguing stories.
The families expanded and include names that I grew up hearing because of their importance to the community and their many philanthropies. The Luptons, Whitakers, Davenports, Probascos, Pattens, Jones, Lasleys, Montagues, Harrisons and de Sales are a few of the family names that were familiar during my childhood. I found these families’ involvements with The Baylor School, the Mountain City Club, Chattanooga Golf & Country Club, the Chattanooga Symphony, the Little Theatre (now Chattanooga Theatre Centre) and the Hunter Museum of American Art especially interesting.
This is not just a coffee table book; it is a fascinating account of the Coca Cola families and dynasties, all embellished with whimsical, absorbing and beautiful illustrations. Written by a master storyteller and thorough researcher, “Empire Divided” is available locally and at book signings. It is well worth your time to read this interesting, enlightening and entertaining book about the product and families that changed our city and the world. Author and artist Billy Parker completely captures the complicated relationship of the Chattanooga and Atlanta Coca Cola families with great style and integrity. Books are available at the Fairyland Pharmacy, Hunter Museum, Shadowbox, Starline Books, as well as the Mountain Mirror office at 112 Watauga on Lookout. Call (423) 822-6397 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.