The late summer sun was hidden behind the rolling Georgia hills. The Candler family finished supper and relaxed on the farmhouse porch, enjoying the evening breeze. After their nightly prayers and Bible Study, the conversations ebbed and flowed from one topic to another as the large family shared news and events. The crops were doing well and it promised to be another good year in spite of the war that was threatening on the horizon. Young Asa listened to the men discuss the many financial aspects to running a profitable farm in the mid 1800’s. His father, Samuel, was quite astute and their farm was known to be one of the more profitable in Carroll County
Slowly the conversations dwindled and soon the dusky twilight covered the yard.
“Did you bring the bay mare inside tonight?” Samuel asked the oldest boy. “I don’t want her out at night this close to her foaling date.”
“All taken care of, Dad.” The boy replied
Asa piped up, “Dad, can I help with this baby? I want to train it too.”
“Well, Son, are you ready for that responsibility? It’s hard work, and more than that, you have to earn the critter’s trust, Can you do it?” The two talked a bit more. Young Asa was eager to prove his ability in helping to train the coming foal.
“We’ll just wait and see,” remarked the older man.
Suddenly, a loud and terrified squawking erupted from under the small building which housed the kitchen behind the main farmhouse.
“Oh, no” yelled Martha Candler, “There’s something after my hens. Somebody do something! Quick, before it gets the babies.”
Asa saw his chance and was off the porch in a flash, grabbing a lantern and a stout shepherd’s crock as he went. Samuel stopped the others from following. “Let him do this.” He said. “Let him see it through.”
Young Asa banged the stick on the side of the building, yelling and hollering to scare what ever was after the chickens. Almost immediately, a slick brown animal streaked out from under the building, a flapping hen in his jaws. For a moment, the hungry mink faced of the determined young boy, then turned and ran from the yard toward the nearby creek. The hen shrieked angrily and loudly, insisting that she was still alive and wanted to be rescued. Now!
“Oh Asa,” His mother called sadly, “He’s got Charlotte, she’s one of my favorites!”
Asa took off in hot pursuit of the little thief and soon cornered him behind the spring house. He could hear his father calling behind him, “Son, I’ve got the shotgun here. Do you want it?” Asa deliberated for a moment. The shotgun would probably shred the animal’s coat and probably kill the still struggling hen. He really wanted to somehow kill the mink without damage to the fur and maybe save the hen. His mom’s chickens were from sturdy stock and this one would probably recover to lay many more eggs.
“It’s your choice, Son.” His dad moved further away.
The shotgun would be a no-fail method of dispatching the varmint. All he had a stout staff. And determination. And faith, just like one of his favorite Bible stories—young David and the Giant Goliath.
After a fierce battle, young Asa emerged victorious with an intact pelt, a feeble but determined hen and a bleeding battle scar from the critter’s sharp little teeth.
The boy spent the next few days skinning and preparing the luxurious fur and contacted a buyer in Atlanta. He hoped to sell it for a modest amount. Much to his pleasant surprise, the buyer sent almost twice what he had hoped for and a request for more furs. Asa the entrepreneur soon persuaded the farmers and settlers in the area to provide him with mink pelts. The farmers wanted to be rid of the critters anyway because of the damage they did to the chickens and the young of other livestock. Asa persuaded them to kill them humanely, thus preserving the profitable furs. This way, everyone—except for the marauding minks—profited.
Asa proved to be an apt student as he quickly learned the ends and outs of business and how to steward resources from his Father. The elder Candler was widely known for shrewd practices and was considered of the more prosperous residents of the area. He was deeply devout Christian and followed Biblical principles. Asa grew up experiencing the Bible’s precepts lived out in daily life and in matters of commerce. Asa knew from early childhood what the word of God had to say about how he should conduct himself in his personal life and as a businessman.
Like the episode with the mink, Asa learned to put his faith into action.
“Dad, Mom, I want to join the church this Sunday.” Eighteen-year-old Asa solemnly faced his parents as he stood with his back to the cheery, warm fireplace. “I have thought about it and prayed about it and I am ready to make a public commitment to God. I intend to live my live according to his principles. And if I make mistakes, then I’ll ask for his forgiveness. I’m going to need Him to show me what to do with my life.” The young man took a deep breath.
“Well, Son, it’s the right thing to do at your age. We’ll support your decision.” Mr. Candler rose to shake his son’s hand. His mother smiled and enclosed him in a warm hug. “Congratulations,” she whispered.
Asa continued to learn all he could from his father, both about the Lord and how to conduct business. It wasn’t long before the lure of the near-by city beckoned strongly and a few years later, Asa once again stood before the old stone fireplace and faced his parents.
“Dad, Mom, I want to move to Atlanta and make my way there. There are so many opportunities, it is going to be a great city someday and I want to help make it the greatest city in the South, maybe the world. I want to go this summer. I know some of the people there from trips to town on farm business. I have a place to stay for awhile and I can get a job. I just know that God has a plan and a future for me in Atlanta.”
His parents sat for a moment thinking about what Asa had just told them. His father was so proud. “Well, Son, if you have thought this through and prayed on it and are sure this is the Lord’s will, then I guess you’d better go.” He looked at his wife. His mother smiled though her tears and nodded. “You’ll have our blessings. We won’t give you much in the way of money, but you’ll have our prayers and blessings.”
When Asa Candler arrived in Atlanta in the summer of 1873, Atlanta was busy turning the devastations suffered during the war into a glorious comeback. Like the phoenix which soon symbolized her undaunted spirit, the new and growing city seemed to know no limits. It was a heady place to be for a young man set on discovering God’s plan.
Asa soon had a job as a "prescriptionist" with George J. Howard, a local druggist. Candler`s early pursuit of excellence and his work ethic immediately set him apart from his competition. He wrote to prospective customers and promised them superior service. He was soon promoted to chief clerk. Candler also became active in service for Christ, teaching a class at First Methodist Church.
Early in 1877, Candler formed a partnership with Marcellus Hallman and began a retail and wholesale drug establishment. Candler was now successfully self-employed. Before long he was married to Lucy Elizabeth Howard and had started a family. While Candler`s success continued in his business and family life, his Christian faith was always central to his existence. Through it all, he gave God the credit for everything and sought inspiration from the Bible. He taught Sunday school and raised his children with daily worship and Bible study.
Eventually, Asa made several business deals with John Smyth Pemberton, who had developed a “Brain Tonic.” Pemberton turned to Candler for financial backing and eventually Candler owned the product. As always, Candler turned to his interpretations of the Bible for guidance in his business deals. He interpreted Proverbs 22:7 as the secret ingredient in his business strategy: "The rich rules over the poor and the borrower is servant to the lender." Candler did not own the product; however the actual owners found themselves in debt to him and he used that relationship to his advantage in the process of building his empire.
By April of 1891, he owned the entire operation and was able, in January of 1892, to incorporate “Coca-Cola” in the state of Georgia. By 1916, Coca-Cola had become the quintessential all-American success story. His initial investment of $500 turned into a $20 billion dollar company with $3 billion in profits every year, and over 56,000 employees. Coca-Cola became the most famous company on this planet.
True to his early hope to be involved with the rebuilding of the greatest city in the South, Candler was elected as mayor of Atlanta in 1916. Asa Candler served as a reform mayor with the task of sorting out Atlanta's chaotic fiscal situation. Asa brought the same tenacity—fueled by his Biblical foundation—that allowed him to recover his mother’s favorite hen from a hungry predator to his service to his city.
In addition to cleaning up the city's finances, he overcame many challenges as mayor. The great fire of 1917, which consumed more than 1,500 homes, saw Candler leading the city's struggle to control the destruction and to recover from the damage. When the United States entered World War I, Candler made large personal loans to help with the construction of Camp Gordon, a military training facility.
In addition to the success of Coca-Cola, Asa diversified his business interests and became successful in banking and real estate. But Candler`s financial success never completely captured his heart. Even though he loved the rough and tumble world of business, he was famous for his willingness to give huge sums of money to various charities, missions, and his church Candler's best-known philanthropy was in the form of a personal check for $1 million, donated to defray the costs of establishing the Southern Methodist institution, Emory College in Atlanta. Asa Candler's great wealth enabled him to make large donations, frequently to projects sponsored by his Southern Methodist denomination. His younger brother Warren Candler, a Methodist bishop, advised him in these matters. He continued to give large sums of money through Wesley Enterprises that helped establish and support institutions that sustained Protestant Christianity in the mid-century South.
The next time you see the most recognizable trademark in the world, or take a swig of "Brain Tonic," remember the godly man behind it—the shrewd Asa Candler—and the Biblical principles that were instrumental in helping to shape more than a century of American culture.
“For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the LORD, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.”
Jeremiah 29:11 (NKJV)
Thanks to the following for contributions to this article:
God's Capitalist: Asa Candler of Coca-Cola by Kathryn W. Kemp (Mercer University Press, 2002).
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