One of the cooler things about building renovations is that sometimes they uncover pieces of history, such as old plaques or advertising signs. Such was the case with the building being converted into residences next to the Webster Avenue Stage in Memphis’ River Arts Fest. I had been standing beside it for a couple of hours or so, and hadn’t noticed anything about it, but when the afternoon sun hit it a certain way, I could clearly make out an old sign: “Chero-Cola Bottling Company.” What on earth was Chero-Cola, I wondered? As it turns out, Chero-Cola, founded by a grocery store owner in Columbus, Georgia in 1915 was the predecessor to the far better-known Royal Crown Cola, or RC, the beverage that went with a moon pie in the Southern past. The founder was trying to find a replacement for Atlanta-based Coca Cola when the Columbus distributor for the latter refused to give him a volume discount he felt he deserved. Although the first Royal Crown beverages appeared earlier (a ginger ale and a root beer), Chero-Cola (did it perhaps include cherry flavoring in the formula?) first appeared in 1915, and only lasted through about 1921, when a court ruled that the designation “cola” could only be used by Chero-Cola’s famous competitor, Coke. Without being able to designate their signature drink as a cola, sales flagged, and the company was renamed from Chero-Cola to Nehi. By the time it introduced a new cola formula in 1933, the name had been changed again to Royal Crown or RC. A court in 1944 overturned the old 1921 decision, and RC’s became officially “colas” again. But the coolest thing is that the relatively-short time that Chero-Cola existed helps us place the Memphis building in time between the years 1915 and 1921. A really cool discovery indeed!
5 Replies to “The Forgotten Legacy of Chero-Cola”
The history of Chero-Cola published here and other places is very likely incorrect. As an archaeologist I have documented a Chero-Cola bottle made by Laurens Glass Works with the manufacturing code being “4 LGW 7”. This code, according to Lockhart et al. (2017) and other sources, indicates that this Chero-Cola bottle was produced in 1947, which is 23 years after it was said to have been discontinued.
According to Wikipedia: “In 1934, Chero-Cola was reformulated by Rufus Kamm, a chemist, and re-released as Royal Crown Cola.” Perhaps the RC corporation continued to use the Chero-Cola name in some rural Southern markets. But I can find no reference for that.
My great grandfather had a bottling company in Headland, Alabama. Have bottles with Headland Alabama on it
Wade H. Elam is listed in the 1924 Nashville, TN City Directory as “Pres and Treas” of Chero Cola Bottling Co. His brother Ira is listed as “Sec”
I own this building and have a Phase 1 report showing the history of this building putting the original build of this building somewhere around 1910. Is have to revisit for a more accurate date. I also have bottles and caps dug from the basement of this building for added fun.
I’m finished with the renovation and have even restored one of the original ghost signs to the best of our ability while leaving the rest in tact.