When Dinosaurs Came to Town



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Though much altered by time, the old Re-O-Cola building is still standing on South Third.

Remembering Re-O

Dear Vance: I came across a dusty bottle of a soft drink called REO-Cola at a garage sale, and the owner said it had been bottled in Memphis. Can you confirm? — J.B., Memphis

Dear J.B.: Most people know of my inordinate fondness for Kentucky Nip, but I vaguely recall taking a sip or two of Re-O-Cola (that’s how the name was spelled, J.B.) from time to time, and thought it was mighty tasty indeed.

Was it bottled in Memphis? Yes, indeed. The company itself went by several names. It began life in 1934 as the Liberty Bottling Company, operated by an enterprising fellow named Henry Loti out of his own home on Florida Street. By the mid-1940s, the company was thriving and — with its name now changed to the RE-O-Cola Bottling Company — moved into a rather handsome building at 893 South Third, shown here in this nice old photo from the Memphis Room. Look very carefully, and you can see stacks of bottled drinks inside the windows to the left. The drink’s slogan was “Refresh Yourself with Re-O.” Not very catchy, I know.

By the early 1950s, for reasons no one ever told me, the firm changed names again, this time to Rainbow Beverages. I don’t know this for certain, but since I’ve never seen any mention of Re-O-Cola after 1950, I presume the company became a distributor for other products, instead of bottling their own. This much I do know: By the early 1970s, it was almost impossible for independent bottlers to compete with the Coca-Colas and Pepsi-Colas of the world, and most of them closed. The old Re-O-Cola building is still standing on South Third, but these days houses a recycling company. Hmm, I wonder if they take old soft-drink bottles?  

 

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