Focus on Fostoria - Nov_30b_03

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Fostoria Focus - November 30, 2003

Chero-Cola Goes ‘Pop' in Fostoria
By Leonard Skonecki

It was nice of the folks in Gibsonburg to help discover a piece of Fostoria history recently.

They were having a sort of community garage sale in June and Dick Schultz of Risingsun was there. He's a self-confessed "garage sale nut."

"If I find something of interest I buy it. Sometimes I sell it. Sometimes I keep it," he said.

He found something very interesting in Gibsonburg and bought it. It's a wooden pop bottle case. On two sides it reads: "Chero-Cola Bottling Co., Fostoria, Ohio."

Chero-Cola made soda pop here in Fostoria.

The case is a faded gray color and is 10-1/4 inches wide, 15-1/2 inches long and 9-1/2 inches high. The construction is odd in that there's no "bottom." A rack with 24 circular holes arranged in four rows of six is mounted about a quarter to a third of the way up from the bottom.

Dick said someone told him the case might have been used in washing the bottles which might have been placed in the case upside-down to dry.

But why print the company name on a case that never left the plant? Besides, the wood seems in pretty good condition considering it would have been frequently exposed to water.

Dick has surfed the Internet at high tide and low looking for a clue to the case's value, but without luck.

Is the case a keeper? Yes, for now, at least.

"There is a fellow who's interested in buying it," he said. "But I'm not going to turn it loose for a while."

The old case opened the door on an interesting Fostoria business. Chero-Cola Co. was just one name for the pop bottling business that Harry J. Zuelzke operated out of the back of his home at 108 Findlay Street.

He started Chero-Cola between 1922-24. He worked at Seneca Wire before that.

Around 1930, Harry got ready for MASH's Radar O'Reilly because the company went by the name of Nehi. In 1941, Harry changed the name again, this time to Fostoria Bottling Co.

Harry's pop bottling business was a franchise operation. The Union Bottling Works was established in 1905 in Columbus, Ga. It made a ginger ale called Royal Crown and its first cola was Chero-Cola.

Chero-Cola became very popular and Claud Hatcher, Union's owner, changed the company's name to Chero-Cola Co.

By 1925, Chero-Cola had 315 plants, mostly in the South. Two hundred sixty-three were franchise outfits and one of those was Harry's. In 1928, Hatcher changed the name again to NEH

Incidentally, Hatcher invented the name NEHI when he heard one of his salesmen talking about an extra-tall bottle used by one of Chero-Cola's competitors. The salesman said it was "knee-high." Hatcher liked the sound of it.

Chero-Cola sold syrups and concentrates and other supplies to its franchised bottlers like Harry. All Harry had to do was add water and carbonation and sell the product in and around Fostoria.

Harry's bottling business lasted until 1952. Then he went to work at Autolite.

Harry Zuelzke was a lifelong Fostorian, born November 1, 1892. He married Mabel Burgbacher in 1916. They had four children. They worshiped at Hope Lutheran Church and Harry was a life member of the Eagles.

Harry died in 1960. Mabel lived in the Findlay Street home until her death in 1987.

An interesting sidelight is that Harry's brother, Arthur, helped with the business. Arthur and Helen had a son, Arthur Jr., who became quite a musician. For a time he was director of the Bowling Green State University concert band.

Harry's company must have been fairly successful. He did some high profile advertising in the 1920's, at least by local standards.

He advertised on the front cover of the 1929 city directory–Drink NEHI, Bottled by Harry Zuelzke, 108 Findlay St. Phone 1546."

In the 1926-27 directory, he took a full-page ad. It shows a soda jerk serving a man a glass of refreshing, fizzy soda. It reads: "Mr. Man! Why treat yourself and not the whole family? We make all flavors. Order a case for the home today. We deliver. Phone 1546. Chero-Cola Bottling Co. Harry Zuelzke, Prop. 108 Findlay St."

Now the $64,000 question is this. Did Mabel help Harry with the bottling? If she did (everybody see this one coming?), then it would be a real mom and pop operation.


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