On August 19, 1919 the Kingsport Times News reports that T. (Tate) L. Keith announced on the previous day that he was opening the Kingsport Bottling & Candy Company which would be located in the building that once housed the Keith Bakery at 611 Boone Street.(2) They incorporated as the Kingsport Pepsi-Cola Bottling Company on November 20, 1919 (3), with T. L. Keith, W. S. Pierce, R. W. Howard, T. R. Bandy, and H. T. Obenshain signing.(5) It appears that Tate L. Keith wasn't content to hand his hat on one leader, namely Pepsi-Cola, because on August 19, 1922 he incorporated the Twin City Bottling Company in Bristol VA, which quickly changed its name to the Twin City Chero-Cola Company.(6) Things were going so well that they found themselves having to purchase new bottling machinery in July 1922.(5) The company is listed as both the Kingsport Bottling & Candy Company and the Kingsport Pepsi-Cola Bottling Company in the 1923 Beverage Blue Book.(4)

Unfortunately for Keith, the parent Pepsi-Cola Company in New Bern, NC went bankrupt in 1923, and of course this left them holding the bag with Pepsi-Cola being their leader product. This situation found the company having to its charter on July 21, 1924 changing its name to the Kingsport Chero-Cola Bottling Company.(5) This was signed by H. T. Obenshain, T. J. May, Tate L. Keith, W. A. Pyle, and T. R. Band.(5) This change is confirmed in the 1925 edition of the Beverage Blue Book.(4) It is also around this time that they shut down the Twin City Chero-Cola Bottling Company in Bristol, and may have established a warehouse there, which would explain why the company appears to have moved to Washington Street by 1924. In 1926 Henry T. Obenshain, who is president of the Kingsport Grocery Company, is listed as general manager of Kingsport Chero-Cola.(1) Things appear to be going well because they purchase new bottling machinery for their plant on February 20, 1928.(5) The company is bottling Chero-Cola, under the name CherO, Nehi Orange, Lemon, Grape, Cherry, Strawberry, Ginger Ale, Peach, and Root Beer during 1928 and 1929.

The Kingsport Times News on March 30, 1930 ran a huge ad and full article reporting that the Nehi Bottling Works is now located in the Reynolds building at 459 East Main Street.(2) The company was so proud of their new plant that they filmed it operating and showed this footage at the Strand Theatre during the showing of another local made movie which featured "hundreds of Kingsport pretty babies on screen".(2) I would love to find that footage of the bottling plant in action. This ad also notes that they are bottling "Nehi Orange Crush" which reminds me of all of the other orange sodas trying to pass their brand off as Orange Crush which had grown in popularity. It appears that Kingsport Chero-Cola Bottling Company wasn't beyond that tactic either as Orange Crush was being bottled in Johnson City at this point.

By 1936 the company has a new leader by the name of Royal Crown Cola, and it didn't take long for Coca-Cola's lawyers to come after their new competitor. In 1939 a blurb appeared in the Kingsport Times which proclaimed that there would be a big newspaper campaign to give this court battle national attention.(2) H. T. Obenshain, now president of Kingsport Chero-Cola Company, said that the advertising would stress the fact of the challenge to Royal Crown by the Coca-Cola Company.(2) Of course this challenge was over Royal Crown Cola's use of the word Cola, which Coca-Cola had been winning cases for years claiming the word as part of their trademark, even including any cola type drink which was similar to their formula. This case was actually one of the most devastating blows to Coca-Cola's sue competition out of existence strategy as the court found that the term cola was actually a generic term for a type of beverage in early 1942.(2) A fitting revenge for the company whose original cola had been forced to drop the term cola from the Chero-Cola brand name back in the 1920's by Coca-Cola.

The period of World War II was tough on the bottling industry due to sugar rationing, and limited supplies of bottles leading them to place ads asking their customers to return their bottles promptly.(2) In 1943 we find a change up in the officers of the company with Thomas Bandy as President, Octavia Obenshain as Vice President, and Henry Obenshain as Secretary Treasurer.(1) Thomas R. Bandy appears to take some time off to hold the office of County Judge around 1946 (1), a position he ran for in 1936 (2), leaving Henry T. Obenshain as President again.(1) By 1945 the company appears to be distributing Pabst Blue Ribbon beer (2), which they would continue to distribute until they closed their doors. By 1949 the address has changed to 693 East Main Street (1), but the Sanborn maps place the building at the same location.

Even though the company had been placing ads under the name Royal Crown Bottling Company, and has changed it on the bottles by 1946, the city directory doesn't change their name until 1949 (1); however, they are still using the Kingsport Chero-Cola Company name in their beer distribution ads.(1) The last mention of either the Royal Crown Bottling Company of Kingsport or Kingsport Chero-Cola in the city directory is 1951 as neither is listed in the 1953.(1) There is a curious item that I found in the charter books that puzzles me, and that is a surrender of charter certificate registered on July 30, 1968.(6) The charter in question is for the Kingsport Chero-Cola Company Inc. the signers being H. T. Obenshain, listed as President, and Grace B. Obenshain, listed as Secretary.(5)

This is the first building the company was located in

This is the company's location on Main Street just after the move in 1930

The same location today

Kingsport Pepsi-Cola bottle dated 1921

August 29, 1924 Chero-Cola ad for the Kingsport Chero-Cola Bottling Company showing the "twist" bottle

From the collection of Frank Anderson, photo by Joseph Lee
9oz Nehi bottle from Kingsport, Tenn.

May 21, 1928 ad introducing the new CherO twist bottle. The Chero-Cola Company had to drop the Cola from their name due to being sued by Coca-Cola.

12oz Royal Crown Cola dated 1937. This bottle was found with a stash of other Kingsport, Tennessee Royal Crown Cola, Nehi, and Par-T-Pak bottles from the late 1930's and early 1940's, which is why I post it here even without a town name, because chances are good that it was bottled there.

August 5, 1928 Nehi ad featuring Hi-Ne the mascot character for the brand

From the collection of Richard Begley, photo by Joseph Lee
12oz Par-T-Pak bottle dated 1939

August 10, 1930 Nehi ad for the Nehi Bottling plant tour film which was shown at the Strand theater.

12oz Royal Crown Cola bottle dated 1939

May 24, 1931 Nehi is being endorsed by Edna M. Ferguson in the Kingsport Times Cooking School which was held on May 26-29.

12oz Royal Crown Cola bottle dated 1940

May 14, 1941 Royal Crown Cola ad featuring movie star Carol Landis.

12oz Nehi bottle dated 1940

August 20, 1944 ad asking their customers to return bottles as the glass shortages of World War II was making it difficult to get replacement bottles.

12oz Royal Crown Cola bottle dated 1946

1947 ad for Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer

From the collection of Geff Moore, photo by Joseph Lee
6oz Chero bottle dated 1947

1947 ad for Royal Crown Cola

12oz Nehi bottle dated 1948

1928 bottler receipt from the Kingsport Chero-Cola Bottling Company

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(1) Baldwin's Kingsport, Tenn City Directory

(2) The Kingsport Times News

(3) The Public Acts of The State of Tennessee 1921

(4) The Beverage Blue Book

(5) Records from Sullivan County Court House

(6) Annual Report of the State Corporation Commission of Virginia