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Preserving Koca Nola's History For Future Generations

Heads-Up Publications                         Charles David Head, Proprietor

(Note: The following article appeared in the June, 2009 issue of Antique Bottle & Glass Collector magazine, p. 28.  For information about AB&GC magazine, visit the AB&GC web site.) 

The Not-So-Famous John J. Ingle, Pioneer Sarsaparilla Purveyor

By Charles David Head © 2009

Most collectors of antique bottles are familiar with the names of pharmacists John S. Pemberton (of Coca-Cola fame) and Caleb D. Bradham (Pepsi-Cola), but what about John James Ingle?

Born in Bellville, Lincoln County, Tennessee on March 5, 1866, Ingle's father, W. J. Ingle, served in Company D, 8th Tennessee Regiment.  At one point while W. J. was off to war, his wife, Katherine, had to bury the family's silver under their home.  Family recollections say she also stood by the door, gun in hand, to protect her home against Union Army marauders.

When he was 16, John went to Shelbyville, Tennessee, where he became an apprentice in the S. F. Knott drugstore, where he learned the profession of pharmacy.  In 1888, he moved to South Pittsburg, Tennessee and purchased the stock of Dean & Co., going into business as John J. Ingle, Pharmacist.  His earliest bottles are embossed JOHN J. INGLE / PHARMACIST / SOUTH PITTSBURG, TENN.

On November 13, 1889 he married Rosa Edna Shull in Bellville.  She was the daughter of Daniel Boone Shull and Sarah Higgins Shull and the great-great-granddaughter of Daniel and Rebecca Boone.  Born February 2, 1868 in Bellville, she joined her husband in South Pittsburg.  The couple quickly adapted to their newfound community and helped establish the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, become charter members.  John served as an elder, while Rosa's cherished task was baking unleavened bread in preparation for the Lord's Supper ceremony.  In fact, she baked bread for the ceremony for more than 50 years.

John also served as postmaster during the 1890s, but devoted most of his time to his Rexall drugstore at the corner of Cedar Avenue and 4th Street.  His medicine bottles from this era are embossed JOHN J. INGLE / DRUGGIST / SOUTH PITTSBURG, TENN.

Six children were born to the Ingles, two dying in infancy.

In addition to filling prescriptions, John's drugstore also carried many products to supply to families, including perfumes, hair brushes, pocket knives, soaps, purses, razors, syringes, ice bags, fever thermometers, inks, pencils and paper tablets.  The store also became the agent for new school books and, like many drugstores of the era, sported a soda fountain.

So did John's chief competitors, Sartain's and L. K. Downing, which may have spurred John to begin bottling his own concoctions of soda water during the late 1890s with the help of his son, John Jr.

Among the products bottles was Ingle's sarsaparilla, put up in both aqua and clear Hutchinson bottles embossed JNO. J. INGLE & CO. / BOTTLERS / SO. PITTSBURG, TENN. inside round plate moulds.  Less than five examples of Ingle Hutchinson bottles are known because John was in the soda water business for only two or three years of the three decades he was in the drug business.

Photo illustrations of bottles by Susan Glazner

Unlike Coca-Cola or Pepsi-Cola, his sarsaparilla never became popular enough to leave the confines of South Pittsburg to become a regional or national favorite.  Ingle probably did not become affluent enough to spend money on advertising the drink other than in the local newspaper, the South Pittsburg Hustler.   Here is his September 8, 1899 ad:

Still, John was an individual highly regarded in his profession and in 1907 was elected to serve as vice president of the Tennessee Pharmaceutical Association.  The Hustler of May 31, 1907 described him as "courteous and obliging in disposition, alert to the requirements of a business which witnesses more innovations than any other line of retail trade...modest in that he deprecates any special commendations for the almost phenomenal success he has achieved in business...is a good example of our best and most representative type of businessmen."

His business acumen allowed him "to specialize in and recommend simple remedies in most cases, having a peculiar regard for his patrons and constantly suggesting remedies that would cost far less than a doctor's prescription...becoming known as a family druggist."

John J. Ingle died September 23, 1919 at 53 years of age because, in part, a heart condition.  His widow died October 12, 1953 at age 85.  Both are buried in the Patton Cemetery in South Pittsburg. 

His memory lingers today in the archives of town and state, as well as in the embossed drugstore and soda bottles left behind.

AUTHOR'S NOTE: I collect antique bottles from my hometown of South Pittsburg, particularly those from the Ingle Company.  I can be contacted via EMail to KocaNolaBook@yahoo.com or snail mail to Charles David Head, 23549-001, PO Box 150160, Atlanta, GA 30315.

CREDITS: Nancy McDaniel Gerber, writing in the History of South Pittsburg, Tennessee; Robert Hookey, South Pittsburg, Tennessee, for the loan of Ingle bottles from his collection; Susan Glazner for the photo illustrations; Eddie Bellamy for bottle photos; the South Pittsburg Hustler, September 8, 1899, May 31, 1907, and August 15, 1935; The Republican, December 22, 1894.