By Sally Pearsall Ericson
Director of Marketing and Public Relations
On March 12, 1953, Walter D. Bellingrath gave a speech in Montgomery, Ala., to commemorate the 50th anniversary celebration of the city’s Coca-Cola franchise.
Mr. Bellingrath and his older brother, Will, had purchased the franchise in June 1903 from C.V. Rainey, principal stockholder and president of the company.
In the speech, Mr. Bellingrath notes that the brothers, who were only one year apart, had always wanted to find a joint business venture. “We were always close buddies, and shared each others’ joys and adversities throughout our childhood and adolescent years, as well as our adult life,” he said.
In the spring of 1903, Will was a purchasing agent for several commissaries for the Woodstock Iron Company, with headquarters in Anniston; Walter was a merchandise broker in Montgomery. When the Woodstock Iron Company notified Will that it was going to close down indefinitely, the brothers decided the timing was right to begin a new business venture together.
Will had noticed the popularity of bottled soft drinks among the Woodstock workers, and the brothers believed that Coca-Cola would be a sound investment. They had a few setbacks as they struggled to raise enough money to supplement their savings and complete the purchase. It is believed that the brothers invested about $5,000 each in the bottling plant.
The stakes were high. “We were sinking everything we had (into the business). We had to succeed,” Walter Bellingrath remembered. “We … realized that if we failed, we would possibly never have another opportunity to enter into the business world on our own.”
Later in the speech, reflecting on the success of the company across the globe, Mr. Bellingrath proudly calls Coca-Cola “the kingpin of all soft drinks.”
Will Bellingrath died on March 11, 1937. In 1941, Walter Bellingrath stood in for his brother at his niece Suzanne Bellingrath von Gal’s wedding.
At the conclusion of the speech, Mr. Bellingrath invites everyone to come and visit “my gardens,” noting, “one is nearer God’s heart in a garden than anywhere else on earth.”
Hear his speech below.
(Sources: “Mister Bell: A Life Story of Walter D. Bellingrath,” by Howard Barney; Museum Home Director Tom McGehee)