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July 11, 2013

"Brookside and its Coal Mining History"

Staci Glover


October 10, 2013

"Blach’s Department
Store and the Family
Behind It"

Harold Blach, Jr. and Jim Bennett


Mountain Brook Library

Reception at 6:30 p.m.

Meeting at 7:00 p.m.



To Preserve and
Jefferson County

Staci Glover

Staci Glover – July 11th Speaker

Brookside and Its
Coal Mining History


rookside native and UAB history instructor Staci Glover will outline the contributions made by Jefferson County coal miners to the area’s rich steelmaking industry at the JCHA’s July meeting.

She is the author of Coal Mining in Jefferson County published by Arcadia Publishing Company in 2011.

Many of the area’s old mining towns, which had their heyday in the 1920s, no longer exist or have drastically changed over the years—including Brookside which served as the headquarters for four Sloss-owned mines, Cardiff, Coalburg, Brazil and Brookside.

Brookside was severely damaged by a flood in 2003.


99 years ago

July 26, 1914

Erskine Ramsey Hawkins, famed jazz musician, is born in Birmingham. His band, the ‘Bama State Collegians, became the Erskine Hawkins Orchestra in the late 1930s after gaining a following in New York and winning a recording contract with RCA Victor. The band’s biggest hit was "Tuxedo Junction" (1939). It rose to number 7 on the national hit parade.

Glenn Miller had the most successful recording of the song in a best-selling (Billboard Number 1) record, RCA Bluebird B-10612-A, in 1940. Hawkins was named after Birmingham philanthropist Erskine Ramsey.



Birmingham News, June, 1953.

Birmingham News, June, 1953.

Message from the President

Tom Carruthers

Tom Carruthers

By the time you are reading this, you either went to, or missed, our party at the Lyric Theater on June 9. I will say more at our next members’ meeting on July 11. I will simply say now that the principal worker for us at the party was our secretary, George Jenkins, who did a superb job.

Several of us visited the fine collection of fire trucks in east Birmingham maintained by Mayor Terry Oden. If time permits I will try to ask him to say a few words on July 11. Finally, I hope you will do what you can to add new members to the JCHA, including getting some prospects to go to this meeting.

We are pushing forward on the plan to videotape all of our member meetings, and make those DVDs available to members as well as to the people who use the library facilities at Emmet O’Neal. If you wish you can purchase a copy of these DVDs at the library.

— Tom Carruthers,  JCHA President


ext year, in July 2014, our speaker will tentatively be Nimrod Frazer, a well-known businessman from Montgomery. The occasion arises because Rod is also an author, and his new book, Send the Alabamians, World War One Fighters in the Rainbow Division, is scheduled for publication next spring.

Alabama supplied most of the soldiers – about 3700 – for the 167th Infantry Regiment of the 84th Infantry Brigade, part of the 42nd (Rainbow) Division. The Chief of Staff of the Rainbow Division in WW1 was then – Colonel Douglas MacArthur

The 167th was involved in the warfare in France, including one of the bloodiest battles of WWI at Croix Rouge Farm near Paris where German forces were halted in their surge towards Paris. Rod Frazer is chiefly responsible for the recently erected 10- foot high bronze statue at the Farm, a tribute to the American soldiers of the Rainbow Division who were killed in WWI.

We hope to participate in finding descendants of the 167th, particularly those who live in this area. So, you will hear more about this project soon.


The Jefferson County Historical Association


This newsletter is published quarterly by and for the benefit of the membership
of the Jefferson County Historical Association.

Copyright © 2013 by JCHA. All rights reserved.

Visit us on line and view back issues at   www.jeffcohistory.com

Jim Bennett, Editor

Editorial Board

Tom Badham
Judy Haise
Dr. Ed Stevenson

Please send letters and notices to the editor via Email:

or mail to:
112 Meadow Croft Circle, Birmingham, AL 35242


Coke in Birmingham

A Pause That Refreshes

—by: Jim Bennett


emember playing that game where you made a bet on who had the most distant city on the bottom of a coke bottle?

Since Coke stopped putting city names on the bottoms of its bottles in 1986, it may have been a while. Actually, bottlers began the practice way back in 1915 and there was hardly a town of any size that didn’t have its name proudly glazed on a Coke bottle.

Coke quit the practice during its 100th anniversary year, making a little history of its own by updating its bottles with the familiar red and white trademark.

The Coca Cola bottling plant in Birmingham has made some history too. Beginning with one employee, a mule named "Bird," and a foot-powered bottling machine, Crawford Johnson Sr. purchased the franchise rights to bottle and distribute Coke in Birmingham in 1902. Back then the name of the city could be found on the outside of the bottle.

Today, Coca-Cola Bottling Company United, Inc. employs almost 3,000 people in 18 sales centers and three production facilities including its plant behind the Birmingham Airport. Since its founding, it has become the second largest Coke bottler in North America and the largest privately held Coca-Cola bottler in the country. It recently announced plans to expand its distribution operations in the Southeast.

Johnson and his family moved to Birmingham from Chattanooga and began the business back when Theodore Roosevelt was in the White House and the Rose Bowl played its first game.

In the early 1900s, Johnson opened the Birmingham Coca-Cola Bottling Company on Birmingham’s Southside. Running low on funds, he borrowed a mule and wagon from Charlie Flemming of Flemming Transfer Company. After slow going, Charlie recommended Johnson put some fancy harness on the mule and paint the wagon red. He also suggested that he drive the wagon at a fast gait through the city streets to give the impression deliveries were being made at a break-neck speed. The idea worked. Stores that weren’t already selling Coke began selling it.

Nine months later, Crawford bought the mule and wagon. Bird was retired about 1915 when wagons were replaced by trucks but the mule was given the run of the company lot. With no gate on her stall and an open access to the street during daylight hours, Bird could be seen all over the Southside with the only boundaries being the tracks of streetcars and

railroads. During the early days of her "employment" she had sustained a nasty fall crossing some icy streetcar tracks and never crossed any tracks again on her own accord.

Fearful that growing vehicle traffic might endanger her safety, Johnson pastured Bird on Charlie Flemming’s farm at Oxmoor. She didn’t take to being put out to pasture and when she could find a break in the fence, she would show back up at the Coke plant. In the spring of 1924, Bird died and was buried at Oxmoor.

bottle bottom

Coke was originally intended as a patent medicine when it was invented in the late 19th century by John Pemberton, a Georgia pharmacist. The soft drink was bought out by businessman Asa Griggs Candler, whose marketing tactics led Coke to a dominant position in the soft-drink market in the 20th Century.

The prototype Coca-Cola recipe was formulated at the Eagle Drug and Chemical Company, a drugstore in Columbus, Georgia, owned by Pemberton, originally as a coca wine called Pemberton’s French Wine Coca.

In 1886, when Atlanta and Fulton County passed prohibition legislation, Pemberton responded by developing Coca-Cola, essentially a nonalcoholic version of French Wine Coca. The first sales were at Jacob’s Pharmacy in Atlanta, Georgia, on May 8, 1886. It was initially sold for five cents a glass at soda fountains, and was popular at the time due to the belief that carbonated water was good for health. Pemberton claimed Coca-Cola cured many diseases, including morphine addiction, dyspepsia, neurasthenia, headache, and impotence.

Whether or not it really had any effect on those things, it is the pause that refreshes. Coke serves over 1.7 billion servings each day. The Coca-Cola Company had 1st quarter 2013 revenues of $11 billion. The Birmingham facility annually distributes more than 250 million bottles and cans of Coca-Cola products to area retailers .

During its 100th anniversary year in 2002, Coke in Birmingham designed a commemorative bottle for its local retailers. Appropriately, the six-pack carton depicted Vulcan standing proud amidst a picture-perfect Birmingham sunset. The only thing missing was Bird, the mule, the company’s first employee.


Clacker, Scrip

and the Company Store

5 dollar clacker 5 cent clacker 1 cent clacker

Clacker pieces from the Sterling Walls Collection.


ixteen Tons reached number one on the Billboard charts for 1955 but the song sung by Tennessee Ernie Ford rang an all too familiar tune for many coal miners. "You load sixteen tons, and what do you get? Another day older and deeper in debt. St. Peter don’t you call me cause I can’t go—I owe my soul to the company store".

That was the sad story of clacker and scrip, worse in some places than others but a problem for miners from Alabama to Pennsylvania.

Clacker (metal) and scrip (paper) was issued by mining or manufacturing companies for use at their own commissaries or company stores. Usually, it was the only place you could spend it.

Large coal companies like the Tennessee Coal, Iron & Railroad Company, which became a part of U.S. Steel in 1907, would issue their own currency to workers who needed to buy goods between paydays. They also issued scrip, temporary paper currency in books of tearout coupons. The temporary money was encumbered against their earnings. At times it seemed the system kept workers tied to the company store, which, of course, was a monetary advantage to the company. The best part for employees was convenience.

Being paid in scrip was like trying to work off a loan whose interest rate was so high that a man was forever in debt. There was little or no competition in the coal fields and company stores inflated their prices above normal rates. By the time rent for the company house a miner lived in, any medical services he needed, utilities, and even a mandatory funeral fund were deducted along with what he had borrowed between pay days, there often was nothing left to collect on pay day.

Produced in denominations from one cent through $5, clacker came in different sizes much like coins of today. Scrip also came in different amounts.

The practice became popular in the late 1880s and early 1900s. Most owners of large coal mines in the Birmingham District issued the temporary currency. Sometimes, it could be discounted at a few privately owned stores, usually for 80¢ on the dollar, often less. Opportunists also bought clacker from miners at discounted prices.

Paying workers in clacker or scrip was such a widespread practice in some places in the country that demands were made for legislation to "abolish the evil." Complaints were that miners often received half their pay in cash and half in scrip which merchants were reluctant to accept. A pair of working shoes that cost $2.20 at a regular store might jump to $2.75 at the company store.

The United Mine Workers, which began in 1890, made scrip an issue in organizing campaigns. Labor contracts and legislation eventually outlawed the use of company scrip. World War II marked a turning point, and by the end of the 1950s almost all coal mining operations were paying their workers in legal tender.

A treasure trove of company clacker is now on loan to Red Mountain Park’s Archaeology Department and will be on public view when the park opens an exhibit and welcome center. The collection, which features many of the city’s earliest industries, is owned by Birmingham collector Sterling Walls. The park’s History Committee has launched a campaign to raise $20,000 to purchase the collection outright. Donations can be made to Red Mountain Park at:
277 Lyon Lane, Birmingham, Ala. 35211. Mark your donation "Clacker Fund".

The park’s chief ranger Eric McFerrin, an authority on iron ore mining in the Birmingham District, said contributions to this fund would be a good way to save a bit of Birmingham’s early history.

1 dollar scip

Brierfield Ironworks $1 scrip issued c.a. 1882.

"This is a fantastic collection of clacker," he said. "Many of the items are R10 (only one known to exist) and we have a great opportunity to preserve an important part of coal and iron making history in Alabama."

Another great collection of company paper scrip is currently on display at the Iron & Steel Museum of Alabama at Tannehill Ironworks Historical State Park.

While clacker and scrip are history, there are modern day reminders. The Mexican Supreme Court ruled in 2008 that Wal-Mart de Mexico, the Mexican subsidiary of Wal-Mart, must cease paying its employees in part with vouchers redeemable only at Wal-Mart stores.

Newcastle mines commissary

The commissary at Newcastle mines is shown here in 1925. It’s predecessor, the Milner Mine, was founded by John T. Milner, the civil engineer who plotted the route of the South and North RR and helped found the city of Birmingham. Milner purchased property north of Birmingham and developed the site with mines and a rail line. It later was known as Coalburg.



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