Living

Gulfport and Biloxi had a lot of bottling operations in the early 20th century

The various early bottling works changed owners and others did not succeed. The French Bottling Works remained in business into the 1930s.
The various early bottling works changed owners and others did not succeed. The French Bottling Works remained in business into the 1930s. Courtesy Randy Randazzo

Today’s Flashback features a photo of three historic soft drink bottles that were obtained by Randy Randazzo, a longtime collector of photos, postcards, and other paraphernalia of the Mississippi Coast.

He has also been a longtime and generous submitter to Flashback. It is surprising how early and how many soda pop producing companies were established, mainly in Gulfport and Biloxi, and how early they started. Other bottles, one as early as 1888, will be featured in future Flashbacks.

The embossing on the first bottle on the left reads: “Gulfport Bottling Works: F. Frank Smith Proprietor.” The announcement of the opening of the bottling works appeared in the Daily Herald newspaper on Feb. 23, 1902. Smith was a Biloxi pharmacist who moved to Gulfport in January that year and opened the Gulfport Drug Company. There is no further word of the bottling company in the newspaper, but this bottle attests to the fact that it got off the ground and had some success.

The Feb. 11, 1911 Daily Herald carried the Charter of Incorporation of the Hardtner Bottling Works on 25th Avenue in Gulfport (see the middle bottle). The corporation included the brothers William T. and Rudolf H. Hardtner, and Louis A. Varnado, their brother-in-law. The company’s purpose was to manufacture and sell soda water, extracts, syrups and non-alcoholic beverages. Later that year, Varnado sold his interest to the brothers and opened his own bottling business in McHenry.

The third bottle on the left is embossed: “French Bottling Works Gulfport.” According to a 1923 Daily Herald report, J.C. French opened the bottling works “early in the century” on 25th Avenue and 30th Street, but it does not pinpoint the date. Meanwhile, his son, J. R. French, purchased the Hardtner bottling works in late 1911. He took over his father’s bottling works about 1918. French produced ginger ale, lemon, pineapple, and other fruit flavored soft drinks. Specialty drinks included various health drinks and J.R.’s favorite, “Cafa Cola.”

Murella H. Powell, a local historian, writes the weekly Flashback column. Do you have a local photograph to submit to Flashback? It can be of any subject or event in the Coast’s distant or recent past. Please send a description with your name, address and phone number to Flashback, Sun Herald, P.O. Box 4567, Biloxi MS39535; call 896-2424; or email living@sunherald.com.

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