Joseph A. Biedenharn

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Joseph Augustus Biedenharn
Joseph A. Biedenharn of MS and LA.png
Biedenharn (c. 1895)

(1866-12-13)December 13, 1866
Vicksburg, Warren County

Mississippi, United States
Died October 9, 1952(1952-10-09) (aged 85)
Monroe, Ouachita Parish, Louisiana, United States
Resting place
Riverview Cemetery in Monroe
Occupation Businessman; Philanthropist
Spouse(s) Ennie S. Biedenharn (married 1889-1936, her death)

Henry A. Biedenharn, Sr.
Malcolm E. Biedenharn

Emy-Lou Biedenharn

Joseph Augustus Biedenharn (December 13, 1866 - October 9, 1952) was an American businessman credited in the summer of 1894 with having first bottled the soda fountain drink, Coca-Cola, at his wholesale candy company building in Vicksburg, Mississippi.

The Vicksburg years[edit]

Of German extraction, Biedenharn was the oldest of seven sons and a daughter born in Vicksburg to Herman Henry Biedenharn (1824–1924) and the former Louisa Wilhemine Lundberg (1844–1913).[1] His father and uncle owned a two-story brick building in downtown Vicksburg, which housed Herman's shoe store on one side and Joseph's candy company on the other.[2] Though Coca-Cola had been invented in 1886 in Atlanta, Georgia by the pharmacist John S. Pemberton, it was not sold in bottles until Biedenharn developed the new procedure. He delivered the drinks to rural areas outside of Vicksburg. He was not only the first bottler of the drinks but he established the new marketing technique of an independent network of franchise bottlers who distribute the drink, since worldwide in scope.[3] Biedenharn had been advised by his father to "go into the nickel business", meaning not the metal but to offer soft drinks for five cents each because prior to 1900 many people would hold on to a dime but spend a nickel for pleasure.[4]

Subsequently, Biedenharn and his brothers Will, Harry, Lawrence, Herman, Ollie, and Albert and sister Katy acquired franchises to bottle Coca-Cola in Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas. The site at 1107 Washington Street in Vicksburg, where the first bottling occurred, was built in 1890. Today it is a museum dedicated to this historical development.[5] As their business grew, the Biedenharns bottled Coca-Cola in other locations in downtown Vicksburg until 1938 when a new Coca-Cola plant was constructed at 2133 Washington Street. The family sold the first building, and it was used for other commercial purposes. In 1979, the Biedenharns regained ownership of the building and began its rehabilitation. They employed historic photographs and various exhibits for interpretation of the Coca-Cola heritage. The Biedenharns then donated the building to the Vicksburg Foundation for Historic Preservation.[2]

The move to Monroe[edit]

In 1913, Joseph Biedenharn moved to Monroe in Ouachita Parish in northeastern Louisiana, where he purchased a small bottling plant to produce Coca-Cola. The Biedenharn home in Monroe is now a tourist attraction, the Biedenharn Museum and Gardens at 2000 Riverside Drive. It is visited by 25,000 to 30,000 persons per year. The original Biedenharn Home is furnished as it was when the Biedenharns' daughter, Emy-Lou, a contralto opera singer prior to World War II, resided there until her death in 1984.[3] In addition to the soft drink exhibits, the home has a Bible Museum with rare books and hosts rotating exhibits.[5]

In addition to their daughter, Biedenharn and his wife, Ennis (1870–1936), whom he married in 1889, had two sons, Malcolm E. Biedenharn and Henry A. Biedenharn, Sr. Joseph Biedenharn died in the fall of 1952 in Monroe at the age of eighty-five.[6] He is interred at Riverview Cemetery there.[7]

After the death of his son Malcolm, Biedenharn named a grandson, Henry A. Biedenharn, Jr. (1919–2010), as the president of the Ouachita Coca-Cola Bottling Company. This Biedenharn, a Monroe native and a United States Navy veteran of World War II, was also affiliated with Biedenharn Realty Company, Inc., the Harn and Biedco corporations, the Ouachita National Bank, Premier Bank, Bank One, and the still operational Emy-Lou Biedenharn Foundation, established in 1971 by his aunt.[8]

The Biedenharn family is known for its philanthropy: "Just look around our community — there's an Emy-Lou Biedenharn Recital Hall at the University of Louisiana at Monroe, there are at least three student scholarships at ULM, and we've got the ballfields in West Monroe. The individual family members also have been very charitable," said Ralph Calhoun, executive director of the museum and gardens.[3]

In 1925, Joseph and Malcolm Biedenharn and other entrepreneurs purchased a crop-dusting business and added eighteen planes, then the largest privately owned fleet in the world.[3] That company eventually became Delta Air Lines, which operated from Monroe before it moved to Atlanta. Until the late 1990s, Delta always had a Biedenharn sitting on its board.[3]

Alana Cooper, executive director of the Monroe-West Monroe Convention and Visitors Bureau, told the Monroe News-Star that her city might be a much different community if the Biedenharns had never moved there: "Large corporations were formed in the area and they grew into national companies and that's because he and his family were smart businesspeople. A lot of things grew from those businesses ... that provided a lot of jobs for a lot of people." Cooper also noted that Emy-Lou Biedenharn left her own cultural legacy to the city.[3]

In 1962, Emy-Lou Biedenharn wrote a memoir of her father, a decade after his death.[4]


  1. ^ "Joseph Augustus Biedenharn (1866–1952)". Retrieved April 22, 2013. 
  2. ^ a b "The Biedenharn Coca-Cola Museum: Our Building's History". Retrieved April 22, 2013. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f "Scott Rogers, "Family imprint seen in Monroe a century after arrival", April 21, 2013". Monroe News-Star. Retrieved April 22, 2013. 
  4. ^ a b Biedenharn Heritage: 1852–1952 in Place Called Mississippi: Mississippi Narratives, pp. 303-304, Marion Barnwell, ed. University Press of Mississippi, 1997. Retrieved April 22, 2013. 
  5. ^ a b "Joseph Biedenharn: The First Bottling of Coca-Cola". Retrieved April 22, 2013. 
  6. ^ "Joseph A. Biedenharn". Retrieved April 22, 2013. 
  7. ^ "Joseph A. Biedenharn". Retrieved April 22, 2013. 
  8. ^ "Henry A. Biedenharn, Jr. obituary, March 25, 2010". Retrieved April 22, 2013.