Heart of Louisiana: Coca-Cola

Monroe -- After an Atlanta pharmacist created Coca-Cola in 1866, it would take decades before someone figured out hot to bottle it.

For nearly 30 years, the only way you could get a Coke was at the soda fountain. "And they would put about an inch of syrup in the bottom of the glass," says Tommy Jacobs,"then they would fill the glass up with carbonated water…. stir it up, Coca-Cola."

Jacobs volunteers as a soda jerk and tour guide at the Coca-Cola Museum in Monroe. The north Louisiana city has this museum because of a man named Joe Biedenharn.

"Joe Biedenharn was the first person in the world to take Coca-Cola out of the soda fountain and put it into a bottle," Jacobs says.

Prior to moving to Monroe, the Biedenharn family had a candy-making shop in Vicksburg, Miss. Biedenharn's candy company was already in the business of selling bottled soda water. So, mixing in a little Coca-Cola syrup and bottling that was really no big deal.

The first Coca-Cola bottle was called a Hutchinson stopper bottle. "The stopper came up from the bottom, held in place by the pressure of the carbonated beverage," says Jacobs.

And this is how soda got its pop. "When you push the stopper down in the bottle, the pressure that had been pushing up on that stopper holding it in place, that pressure was released all at once and it went 'pop'."

In 1912, Joe Biedenharn moved to Monroe as the family expanded its Coca-Cola bottling business. Today, visitors Jena St. Ann and Shaquille Coleman get the museum tour, including a demonstration of Biedenharn's first filler-capper machine.

"One hose brought in the Coca-Cola syrup and one hose brought in the carbonated water and they put the bottle here and they lower it down so it didn't make a mess," Jacobs explains. "Then they put it over here, put a cap on the bottle, lower it back down, cap the bottle."

This museum is loaded with Coca-Cola nostalgia. There are ice chests and coolers, an original Model-T Coke delivery truck, 118 years' bottled history, and even a chance to buy a Coke for a nickel. That's how much they cost before twist-off caps.

Many of these items come from the time of returnable bottles -- childhood memories that live on in a museum, that highlights a Louisiana connection to a taste that is known around the world.

The Biedenharn family has operated the Coca-Cola bottling plant in Monroe since it moved there in 1912. For more information, go online to http://www.bmuseum.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=28&itemid=52.