Joseph B. Whitehead

Joseph Brown Whitehead was one of the original bottlers of Coca-Cola. Together with Benjamin F. Thomas, he secured the rights to bottle and sell Coca-Cola in most of the United States. In 1900, he established the Dixie Coca-Cola Bottling Company, later The Coca-Cola Bottling Company, in Atlanta with business partner John T. Lupton. They sold franchises to other bottlers, expanding Coca-Cola’s reach and laying the groundwork for a national bottling system.

Mr. Whitehead died in 1906, before he could see the Coca-Cola bottle become the world’s most recognized icon. His brief but fruitful career created a lasting legacy, however, in both the beverage business and the city he called home. Philanthropically inclined, Mr. Whitehead was active in civic and religious affairs and gave generously to local churches, orphanages and human service organizations in Atlanta.

His example inspired his eldest son, Joseph B. Whitehead Jr., to establish a foundation in his name. Mr. Whitehead Jr. specified in his will that the foundation should aid the poor and needy in Atlanta, and children in particular.
  • 1864

    Joseph Brown Whitehead is born to a Baptist minister, the Reverend Richard H. Whitehead, and Mary A. Conkey Whitehead in Oxford, Mississippi. He loses his mother at the age of five and spends an itinerant childhood in Mississippi and Texas.

  • 1888

    Mr. Whitehead graduates from the University of Mississippi with a law degree. He establishes his law practice in Chattanooga, Tennessee, where he specializes in tax law and serves for a time as back-tax attorney for the city.

  • 1894

    Mr. Whitehead marries Letitia “Lettie” Pate of Thaxton, Virginia. The couple settles in Chattanooga, Tennessee and have two sons, Joseph Brown Whitehead Jr. and Conkey Pate Whitehead.

  • 1899

    Mr. Whitehead and fellow attorney Benjamin F. Thomas approach Asa Candler, president of The Coca-Cola Company, with a “preposterous idea” – bottling Coca-Cola, which is a popular fountain drink at the time. Mr. Candler eventually is persuaded to sell to the entrepreneurs for $1 the exclusive rights to bottle and sell Coca-Cola in most of the United States.

  • 1900 - 1902

    Mr. Whitehead and Mr. Thomas split their bottling enterprise. Mr. Thomas serves the Mid-Atlantic and the East, while Mr. Whitehead serves the Southeast, Southwest and Midwest. Chattanooga businessman John T. Lupton advances Mr. Whitehead $5,000 to build a plant. Together, they open the Dixie Coca-Cola Bottling Company in Atlanta, which expands so quickly that it outgrows its Edgewood Avenue plant within a year. To meet demand, the entrepreneurs pioneer a franchise system. They sell franchises to other bottlers, beginning with 16 plants in Atlanta that are soon followed by national bottling and distribution facilities. By 1909, nearly 400 Coca-Cola bottling plants are in operation.

  • 1903

    The Whitehead family moves to 583 Peachtree Street in Atlanta. Ever the entrepreneur, Mr. Whitehead takes on other business ventures, becoming president of the Bowden Lithia Springs Water Company and treasurer of the Ponce de Leon Amusement Park Company.

     

    As he prospers, Mr. Whitehead and his wife become business, church and community leaders in the city, giving generously to many charitable causes. Mr. Whitehead is a major supporter and active member of the Ponce De Leon Baptist Church. He gives generously to the Baptist Church, the Orphans’ Home at Hapeville, the Foreign Board at Richmond and the Salvation Army.

     

  • 1906

    Mr. Whitehead dies of pneumonia at the age of 42. The Christian Index, official publication of the Baptist Church, honors his life thus: “He was true and steadfast in his love and friendship …. Right nobly did he accomplish life’s mission, doing more in 42 years than even good men accomplish in a long life of 70 or 80 years.”

  • 1935

    Joseph B. Whitehead Jr. dies. In life, he attended Yale University, served in the Naval Intelligence Service during WWI, and engaged in the family’s real estate and Coca-Cola bottling businesses. His will establishes the Joseph B. Whitehead Foundation as a memorial to his father in 1937. The entire Whitehead family fortune is eventually dedicated to philanthropy. Conkey Pate Whitehead creates the Lettie Pate Whitehead Foundation as a memorial to his mother in 1940, while she establishes the Lettie Pate Evans Foundation in 1945.