Lost Memphis: Whistle Bottling Company



Photo courtesy Chris Weide

In our February issue, I told the dramatic and heart-rending story of the Whistle Bottling Company, a soft-drink manufacturer that operated on South Main in the early 1900s. I ran a  nice photo of the old building, courtesy of the Memphis Room at the Benjamin Hooks Central Library, which is still standing today, though it's changed considerably over the years. The old Whistle building, I mean, not the library. Please — pay attention.

What I did not do, however, was  include a photo of an actual Whistle Bottling Company bottle.

Until now.

Thanks to a very comprehensive website operated by a nice fellow named Chris Weide, who is quite an authority on the American soft-drink bottling industry, I found a photo of an old Whistle bottle with its distinctive slogan, "Just Whistle." As you can see, this bottle dates from the 1950s and came from the Jacksonville, Florida, branch of the company, which brings up sort of a mystery.

The Whistle company didn't start in Memphis. The South Main building was just one of many distribution centers for this beverage, which was bottled and sold all over the South. But as far as I can tell, the company didn't stay in business here very long at all. It thrived in other cities, as you can see from this bottle, and — later purchased by a national bottling company called Vess — it can still be found today in various cities.

But not in Memphis. I don't know why.

Oh, and Chris points out that this is indeed a later bottle, so it isn't an exact replica of the Whistle bottles that would have been sold in Memphis in the 1920s. Oh well, I do what I can.

One more thing. According to Chris, bottles like this are known to collectors as  "ACL" bottles — for "applied color label." Visit www.ca-yd.com to learn more. (I'll let you figure out the rather unusual name of the website. I've done enough for one day.)

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Ask Vance is the blog of Vance Lauderdale, the award-winning columnist of Memphis magazine and MBQ: Inside Memphis Business.  Vance is the author of three books: Ask Vance: The Best Questions and Answers from Memphis Magazine's History and Trivia Expert (2003), as well as Ask Vance: More Questions and Answers from Memphis Magazine's History Expert (2011) and Vance Lauderdale's Lost Memphis (2013). He is also the recipient of quite a few nice awards, the creator of several eye-catching wall calendars, and the only person we know with a vintage shock-treatment machine in his den. 

You can find him from time to time in the pages of the Memphis Flyer and MBQ, on WKNO television, and on Facebook. When he is not exploring the highways and byways of Memphis, he spends his time sleeping, napping, and dozing.

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