Monday, June 15, 2015

The Road To Lime Cola



While being interviewed for their final “road to” movie, 1962’s British production of The Road to Hong Kong, Crosby and Hope recounted how they had gotten “conned” into investing in a company which produced a “Coca-Cola killing” soda by the name of Lime Cola, which shortly went bankrupt. From all of the references to Lime Cola as it pertains to Hope and Crosby’s involvement in it, you would think that it was a totally brand new drink that had just come on the market then quickly tanked. In truth the Lime Cola brand was already decades old by the time that the road weary duo came along to “lose their shirts” investing in it.

While soda shops were adding lime to cola drinks as far back as the late 1800’s, the brand itself is first mentioned as being among those tested by President Teddy Roosevelt’s Homes Commission in 1908 where it is listed as being produced by the Alabama Grocery Company of Birmingham, Ala. This company was operated by Sid Lee, and they bottled brands such as Imported French Cola, Lime Cola, and Buffalo Rock Ginger Ale. The popularity of Buffalo Rock Ginger Ale had grown so much since its introduction in 1906 that the company decided to focus just on it when they trademarked it in 1917. Eventually they would change the name of the company to the Buffalo Rock Company. 

It would appear that wanting to focus on Buffalo Rock the Alabama Grocery Company sold the Lime Cola trademark. This makes sense when you know that Lime Cola became a Montgomery, Alabama product when the Lime Cola Company was incorporated there on July 31st, 1915, and soon started offering franchises. The Lime Cola Company was a closed corporation with no stock for sale outside the officers of the company. These officers were J. A. Adair as President, Mr. William M. Chapman as Vice President, and Mr. D. C. Knox as Secretary and Treasurer, and their syrup producing factory was located at One Hundred and Seven South Court Street.

The company started franchising the brand in January of 1916, and in one year boasted having fifty seven franchises located in Alabama, Georgia, and Florida. They even had to open one per the request of the five thousand troops of the 1st, 2nd, and 4th Alabama Volunteer Infantry regiments who were mustered to Nogales, Arizona during their five month deployment to guard the border against Pancho Villa. Villa’s Mexican Revolutionary forces had raided a town in New Mexico in 1916. As of January 1917 there were twelve new franchises under construction, and the franchise requests were still coming.

Originally the brand was bottled in a straight side crown top bottle with the typical diamond shaped paper label applied to it which they had trademarked in November 1915; however, by 1920 they had modified the label to resemble the shape of a lime. Things were about to change when on May 24, 1921 Chandler King was granted a patent for a deco bottle for Lime Cola. Chandler King would figure heavily in the story of another cola brand known as Pop Kola, but that is another story. The new bottle was a simple design with what appeared to be petals encircling the shoulder and heel with the Lime Cola trademark diagonally placed in the center.

Things appear to still be going well for the brand as they enter the Depression and they even have a new ACL (applied color label) bottle in 7oz or 12oz sizes by 1939. They featured a mascot in their ads to solicit franchise holders named Sir Limey, who of course featured a monocle as we all know all British people do, it was 1939 when stereotypes were commonplace in advertising.  In October 1945 the company was taken over by new owners with J. W. Wells as President of the new company. By June 1946 the new owners were boasting franchises in twenty seven states and the Republic of Mexico.

In late 1946 I. Berman replaced J. W. Wells after he resigned to focus on his lumber holdings. In February 1947 it was announced that Bing Crosby and Bob Hope had acquired substantial interests in the Lime Cola Company, and the company was building a new home office building. The two actors were quite active in the promotion of the “new” drink. Bing let no grass grow under his feet when he started plugging the drink on his radio show. By this point the logo had been changed to a large LC with Lime Cola written under it.

The pair decided that they also had to include Lime Cola in their fifth movie in the “Road to..” series of movies. In a carnival scene in the early part of the movie they had decided to have the entire screen filled with Lime Colas, Y. Frank Freeman then head of Paramount Studios, and also a director of the Coca-Cola Company, heard about it. Freeman rushed out on the set ordering the director to remove the Lime Cola related items. The thing was Bing and Bob owned two thirds of the production to his one third, the Lime Cola advertising remained. The movie was released in December 1947; however, the Lime Cola Company filed for bankruptcy reorganization in March of 1948, and Bob and Bing were left singing a different tune.

The company was reorganized as the Lime Cola Company of Tennessee, and the offices were moved to Chattanooga. They did try to re-invent the brand with a new label design, but things were winding down for the company so a new approach had to be taken. They had tried to get a boost from star power; however, ultimately that had fallen through. They decided to negotiate with Walt Disney to license Donald Duck for their new line of beverages, which they had already been working on developing when they changed their name to General Beverages, Inc. in 1952.

The Donald Duck line of course included a Lime Cola along with several flavors, which you can read about in issue 66 of this very magazine; however, General Beverages’ charter was revoked in February 1957. This spelled the end for a brand that had lasted half a century, and that deserves more than a footnote in the history of Hope and Crosby. Now you know the story of Lime Cola the “Happy Snappy Combination of Cola and Lime” which was “Not twice as much but twice as good”.

June 1916 ad for Lime Cola

August 1921 ad for Lime Cola

Early Lime Cola cap
1945 Lime Cola bottler ad
1940's bottle cap

early 1940's Lime Cola bottle
late 1940's bottle cap

Late 1940's Lime Cola bottler ad

1947 Lime Cola bottle
One of the last advertising pieces for Lime Cola before it was incorporated into the Donald Duck brand.

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