Joseph Brown Whitehead was born in 1864 in Oxford, Mississippi, the son of a Baptist minister. He graduated in law from the University of Mississippi, and established a tax law practice in Chattanooga, Tennessee. In 1894 he married Letitia (Lettie) Pate of Thaxton, Virginia. They had two sons, Joseph B. Whitehead, Jr. and Conkey Pate Whitehead.
Shortly before the turn of the century, Mr. Whitehead and a friend and fellow lawyer, Benjamin Thomas, conceived the idea of bottling Coca-Cola, then a popular fountain beverage in the South. In 1899 they called on Asa Candler, President of The Coca-Cola Company, to present their proposal. Although unconvinced of the potential of Coca-Cola in bottles, Mr. Candler was persuaded to grant the Chattanooga lawyers an exclusive contract to bottle and sell Coca-Cola in most of the United States.
In 1900, after deciding upon a territorial franchise plan under which the bottling system was to develop, the partners split their bottling enterprises. Mr. Thomas remained in Chattanooga and organized The Coca-Cola Bottling Company (Thomas), Inc., which controlled the middle Atlantic and eastern states. Mr. Whitehead entered into partnership with John T. Lupton and moved to Atlanta to establish The Dixie Coca-Cola Bottling Company to serve the southeastern, southwestern and middle western states.
In his business and personal life Mr. Whitehead was ambitious but always considerate of others. During his lifetime he gave generously to local churches, orphanages, and social service agencies. In 1906, at the age of 42, he succumbed to pneumonia while visiting at his wife's home in Virginia.
The Joseph B. Whitehead Foundation was established by Mr. Whitehead's elder son, Joseph B. Whitehead, Jr. Born in Chattanooga in 1895, young Joe attended Atlanta schools and Yale University. He engaged in the family's real estate and Coca-Cola bottling businesses, and he served during World War I in the Naval Intelligence Service. He died in 1935 at the age of 40.