Matthews Heritage Museum explores Pepsi roots

Some of the memorabilia that will be displayed in the exhibit. Photo courtesy of Matthews Heritage Museum

MATTHEWS – The Matthews Heritage Museum will launch an exhibit this month that showcases Pepsi’s roots in North Carolina. 

The exhibit not only shares the history of Pepsi-Cola in Charlotte, but displays Pepsi memorabilia from the company. Catch the exhibit, “Pepsi: Born in the Carolinas,” from July 9 to Nov. 19 at the museum, located at 232 N. Trade St. Visit for hours and admission.. 

Caleb Bradham, a pharmacist in New Bern, invented Brad’s Drink in the late 1880s, later to be known as Pepsi-Cola. His aim was to create a drink that was delicious and healthful, aiding digestion and boosting energy. 

In 1905, as the drink’s popularity grew, Charlotte was one of the first two franchises of the new company.  Thus began Pepsi-Cola Bottling Company of Charlotte Inc. 

Henry Barksdale Fowler, who was to become known to his employees as “Mr. Pepsi-Cola,” bought the first Pepsi franchise from the drink’s inventor Caleb Bradham and began doing business in a barn beside the city’s blacksmith shop on East Trade Street, near the railroad tracks. 

Over time, Charlotte’s franchise grew and because of Fowler's forward-thinking management style, the parent company often introduced new items in the Charlotte market. The Pepsi swirl bottle, which was Fowler's idea, was test marketed in Charlotte. 

By the early 1950s, more than 60 delivery trucks rolled out of the South Boulevard plant every day.

Fowler ran the business more than 65 years. Fowler was the only franchisee to continuously bottle and distribute Pepsi while hundreds of others were abandoning the national soft-drink company. 

 The company was later led by Dale Halton, Henry’s granddaughter who became president in 1981. Under her leadership she exponentially grew the business. 

Pepsi-Cola Bottling Company of Charlotte employs 350 workers and has an annual sales volume of 15 million cases or $74 million. Halton’s success was recognized in 1988 when she was named “Charlotte Business Woman of the Year.”

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