It took an enterprising young man in Vicksburg, Mississippi, to bring this iconic beverage to the masses.
Born in 1866 to German immigrant parents in Monroe, Mississippi, Joseph Biedenharn was the eldest of 12 siblings. Young Joseph followed in the footsteps of his father, Herman, by taking over the family’s confectionery/soda fountain business in Vicksburg when he was just a teenager.
Of course, king of the taps was Coca-Cola, which at that time could only be purchased if you were sitting in a venue that had a soda fountain. Biedenharn thought this was a shame, and was certain that plenty of folks further afield in rural Vicksburg would surely appreciate the effervescent elixir…if only he could get it to them!
Biedenharn had a flash of brilliance, and he took that Coca-Cola and put it in bottles. He immediately sent his first two cases off to Asa G. Candler, then president of Coca-Cola, who proclaimed the bottled version of his beverage was just “fine.”
Tepid response aside, the idea caught on like wildfire. Bottling franchises were soon handed out across the country by Coca-Cola, with the Mississippi territory being given to the Biedenharns, naturally. Joseph went from delivering bottles locally in a horse-drawn dray to having not only the Mississippi franchise but multiple additional territories in Louisiana and Texas. Joseph Biedenharn not only revolutionized the soda pop industry but helped launch Coca-Cola into the worldwide mega-brand it still remains today.
The fascinating story of his entrepreneurship is chronicled in the Biedenhard Coca-Cola Museum, which is housed in the now-restored original Biedenharn Candy Company in Vicksburg. The museum features a wealth of fascinating Coca-Cola advertising, historic memorabilia, and equipment of the type Biedenharn used for bottling the bubbly beverage.
Know Before You Go
The museum is open Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday from 1:30-4:30 p.m. It's closed Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years Day.