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Look Back: One man brings Coca-Cola to the Mid-Ohio Valley

The Coca-Cola advertisement above was from a 1908 Parkersburg publication. It boasted that the drink “Relieves Fatigue and Quenches Thirst.” The “official” bottling and sale of Coca-Cola in Parkersburg began in 1902. (Image Provided)

Coca-Cola plant here 50 years old; progressive pharmacist took a chance

Fifty years ago [1902] Parkersburg was a small community of less than 20,000 persons and Court Square was the heart of the business district, and one of the most prominent businessmen was a progressive pharmacist by the name of Ernest Grimm.

Horse and buggy traffic was at its peak and the steamboats on the Ohio and Little Kanawha rivers did a heavy business when Pharmacist Grimm decided to take on a new line – bottled Coca Cola.

Druggist salesmen coming in had praised its flavor and had insisted that he could not make a mistake, until Mr. Grimm decided maybe they had something.

There was a space behind his drug store on the southeast corner of Juliana and 3rd Sts. and he made his plans to dispense the bottled drink from there. Bottling, of course, was to be done by hand.

Mr. Grimm did his own bottling originally, getting to it as he had time away from his pharmacy business. Eventually he added one employee and then later another.

Mr. Grimm’s franchise gave him the right to sell the bottled drink within 50 miles of Parkersburg. Deliveries were made by horse and wagon where practical, and otherwise by river. One of the largest standing orders came from Jack Young from Matamoras, Ohio, who received 24 cases each Monday.

Soon the new drink had taken hold justifying Mr. Grimm’s first enthusiasm, and by 1911 had outgrown the crowded quarters, so that Pharmacist Grimm found it expedient and progressive to construct a new plant on Juliana Street, below the drug store with machinery that bottled at the rate of one case a minute.

He took another forward step, he bought one of the new-fangled electric trucks, because it could haul up to 20 cases of the bottled beverage. Soon the demand for the popular drink had become so great that the old machinery wasn’t fast enough, and had to be replaced with machinery that would bottle eight cases per minute. But even this did not take care of the out-of-town demand. Road conditions interfered with hauling, so Mr. Grimm decided that he must take another forward step, he would construct other plants where the demand was the greatest.

In 1917, he opened a plant in Athens, Ohio, and in 1918, opened a third plant in Point Pleasant.

[Grimm’s franchise area grew to include Spencer, Pennsboro, Sistersville and eventually, Ravenswood.] As a result of all this development the Parkersburg Coca-Cola Bottling Works became the Parkersburg Coca-Cola Bottling Company in 1931. That same year, Mr. Grimm died, and his son-in-law Frank J. Reilly became manager.

The Parkersburg business continued to grow with demand, until the old quarters on Juliana Street were no longer adequate. It was decided to take the biggest step in the company’s career, build a new home.

Land was selected on 13th Street and there was constructed a $75,000 building. A handsome modern two-story structure with enough room for the manufacture of Coca-Cola.

This [plant] was opened in 1936. [This building still stands on 13th Street near 7th, from which, Coca-Cola is still distributed.]

So it [Coca-Cola] has brought big business to Parkersburg, and all because of the enthusiasm of a progressive pharmacist who wasn’t afraid to take on a new line back half a century ago.

Excerpt from The Parkersburg News

Aug. 10, 1952, by Marie Wood

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Bob Enoch is president of the Wood County Historical and Preservation Society. If you have comments or questions about Look Back items, please contact him at: roberteenoch@gmail.com, or by mail at WCHPS, PO Box 565, Parkersburg, WV 26102.

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