Jerry Summers: Chattanooga Glass Company

Monday, May 10, 2021 - by Jerry Summers
Jerry Summers
Jerry Summers

On a concrete slab in Alton Park are the demolished remains of what was once a thriving business that existed from 1901-1988.

            After a Coca-Cola bottling plant was established in Chattanooga in 1899 the manufacturing of glass bottles began two years later to provide the containers for the product which would become a significant part of the manufacturing history of Chattanooga.

            What would eventually develop into the Chattanooga Glass Company was started by Charles Reif to provide glass bottles for his brewery.

            Said business did well until Prohibition went into effect in 1920 with the passing of the Eighteenth Amendment and it became necessary to abandon production of whiskey and beer bottles and he therefore started producing drink bottles for the soft drink industry.

            Its main customer was Coca-Cola although NeHi, Nu Grape and a variety of other soft drink companies had their bottles made at Chattanooga Glass.  Mason jars used for canning were also part of the items made at the Alton Park facility.

            Various shapes and colors of the bottles as well as different stoppers and caps evolved over the years.

            In 1915-1916 Coca-Cola adopted the famous “hobble-skirt” (curvy female profile) bottle which gave the company uniformity with its drink bottles.

            Although many people mistakenly credit the world famous “father of industrial design,” Robert Loewey, with creating the new bottle shape it was actually designed by the Root Glass Company of Terra Haute, Indiana after entering a Coca-Cola contest to create a “new and distinctive design.”  Such action was necessary to combat many competitors in the soft drink industry who were infringing on Coca-Cola's trademarks which was resulting in continuous litigation in the courts.

            J. Frank Harrison, cousin to Chattanooga Coca-Cola pioneer John Thomas Lupton, bought the glass company in 1925 and used the plant to provide bottles for Coca-Cola distributors throughout the country.

            Harrison, W.H. Meacham, Clarence Avery and W.T. Williford were the original executive officers with Harrison as the president, Meacham vice president and general manager, Avery as secretary, and W.T. Williford as treasurer.  Meacham was the main holdover from the original Reif Company.  Harrison died in 1933 but the business continued to grow.

            Originally the glass bottles were hand blown but eventually were manufactured by automatic gas fed furnaces that greatly increased their quantity of bottles produced daily.  Ultimately electric operated furnaces were installed.

            At its zenith Chattanooga Glass Company operated four bottle producing furnaces on three eight-hour shifts, seven days a week and employed 600 workers in the summer and 300 during the winter.

            In addition to local employees many came from Alabama and Georgia traveling significant distances in carpools to work at the plant.

            Many of the jobs were repetitive, the plant was not air conditioned, and rigid enforcement of safety rules did not come into existence until OSHA was adopted by Congress in 1970.

            However, it provided a steady place of employment and several families such as the Ingles, Kolwycks, and others were represented by multiple workers at Chattanooga Glass.

            Throughout the years the practice developed of putting the name of the city where the bottles were supposed to be originally circulated on the bottom plate of each bottle.  Although this had nothing to do with the location of where the bottles were actually manufactured, the presence of the name of a town on the Coca-Cola bottle led to the gambling practice of “far away.”

            Several consumers would purchase a coke without looking at the bottom plate.  They would then make a wager for the price of the drinks or additional side bets as to which bottle mark was the greatest distance away from the place of soft drink purchase.

In 1958 business was sufficiently strong enough to purchase a second plant in Corsicana, Texas which continued to operate until the final closing of the parent plant in 1987-1988 after several corporate changes and mergers with national companies.

            In 1953 J. Frank Harrison, Jr. became president of the company and it continued in operation until 1988 when it shut down permanently, largely due to the transfer to aluminum cans by the soft drink manufacturers.

             Charles Saylor, longtime employee and personnel manager for 38 years from 1954-1988, recalls the various changes in the company over the years of his service and expressed pride in the fact that Chattanooga Glass provided employment for many semi-skilled workers that allowed them to support their families in blue collar positions with the company.

            He also adopted the practice of providing summer jobs to many college students and many have attributed the interest and desire to return to college to get a degree was due to a summer of hard work at Chattanooga Glass Company.

            The plant had an active inter-plant intramural softball league in the summers and high school and college baseball players were highly sought to be placed on one of the competing squads when they were working in the plant.

            When the plant finally closed in 1988 with a rich history a strong source of employment was eliminated from the industrial fabric of Chattanooga.

* * *

Jerry Summers

(If you have additional information about one of Mr. Summers' articles or have suggestions or ideas about a future Chattanooga area historical piece, please contact Mr. Summers at jsummers@summersfirm.com)

Chattanooga Glass workers
Chattanooga Glass workers

Apison Food Pantry Receives Donation From Hamilton County Republican Women’s Club

Upcoming Chattanooga Road Closures

Golden Lion Tamarin Born At The Chattanooga Zoo


The Hamilton County Republican Women’s Club presented a donation to the Apison Food Pantry. "This organization helps the needy in the Apison Community," officials said. "A special thanks to ... (click for more)

Here are the upcoming road closures in Chattanooga: Chattanooga Football Club Home Match The following roads will be closed on Saturday from 3:30 p.m. until midnight Reggie White Blvd ... (click for more)

A Golden Lion Tamarin, an endangered species, was born one week ago today at the Chattanooga Zoo. “It’s always exciting when a new animal is born at the Chattanooga Zoo. It’s a great indicator ... (click for more)



Happenings

Apison Food Pantry Receives Donation From Hamilton County Republican Women’s Club

The Hamilton County Republican Women’s Club presented a donation to the Apison Food Pantry. "This organization helps the needy in the Apison Community," officials said. "A special thanks to Pastor Macil Duncan, along with the staff of the Apison Food Pantry and members of the Republican Women’s Club, County Mayor Jim Coppinger, Circuit Court Clerk Larry Henry, Trustee Bill Hullander, ... (click for more)

Upcoming Chattanooga Road Closures

Here are the upcoming road closures in Chattanooga: Chattanooga Football Club Home Match The following roads will be closed on Saturday from 3:30 p.m. until midnight Reggie White Blvd between the Chattanooga Skate Park north entrance and W 20th Street Chestnut Street between W 17th Street and W 19th Street W 19th Street between Reggie White Blvd and Chestnut Street Street ... (click for more)

Breaking News

Health Department No Longer Making Appointments For COVID-19 Vaccine; Gives Guidance For Lost Vaccination Record Cards And Upcoming Vaccination Schedule

The Hamilton County Health Department is no longer making appointments for the COVID-19 vaccine. Individuals may drive up to the Tennessee Riverpark vaccination site during operating hours to receive their first or second dose of the vaccine. “We want to make this process as easy as possible so that we can eliminate barriers to getting vaccinated,” says Health Department Administrator ... (click for more)

Collegedale Police Save Overdose Victim

Collegedale police responded to the Integra Hills apartment complex on Thursday after receiving reports of an unconscious person. When they arrived at the residence, the officers discovered that the victim had overdosed on opiates. She wasn’t breathing and no pulse could be found. The officers immediately began CPR and administered NARCAN to the victim. Collegedale officers ... (click for more)

Opinion

What If?

What if, those 2,500 plus folks who signed the petition against Planned Parenthood coming into our public schools would mentor just one child? What if, those hundreds of folks who showed up at last month’s school board meeting to demand removal of mask would mentor just one child? What if, the dozens of folks that I get emails and letters from each week opposing critical race theory ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: The Saturday Funnies

Mississippi’s Lee Sanderlin finished dead-last in his fantasy football pool with his buddies and, per the rules, had to spent 24 straight hours inside a neighborhood Waffle House to discipline his mind for the 2021 season. However, there was a proviso – for every waffle that Lee ate an hour would be deducted from the 24-hours at the restaurant. He ate two waffles when he got ... (click for more)