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COM: May 2004

    Atlantic Beer: 1955

    Atlantic Beer. Atlantic Beer. Atlantic Beer.

    This is an Atlantic Beer from the Atlantic Company, USBC 32-16.  Sometimes called the "Plantation Can" or the "Porch Can," it was brewed and canned in Charlotte, North Carolina.  I picked this one up in trade from Matt M. (Hi Matt!) a fellow Rusty Bunch member.  I'm pretty much a Yankee (born and raised in Ohio and married to a good New England girl) even though I live in Virginia now, but I like the unique design and think it's an attractive label.  Also, the southern part of the US never had very many breweries which makes this can somewhat different.

    Atlantic Company 1867-1956

    Atlantic beer sign.Atlantic Brewing sign with their trademark logo and slogan. 1940s? Thanks to Russ for the photo!

The Atlantic Company was founded in Atlanta in 1867 as The City Brewery.  It went through a number of name changes over the following decades, as the Atlantic City Brewing Company from 1876-1892, the Atlantic Brewing and Ice Co. from 1892-1916 and the Atlantic Ice and Bottling 1933-1935.  In 1935 they were purchased by the Atlanta-based Atlantic Ice & Coal Company (under the name Southeastern Brewing Company in Chattanooga until 1936) and from 1937-1955 was named the Atlantic Company.  They brewed only in Atlanta before Prohibition, but after Prohibition ended, they expanded to several other cities throughout the South to become a regional brewer.  The other brewery locations, and the years they operated, were...
Atlanta (1935-1955)
Chattanooga (1933-1941)
Charlotte (1936-1956)
Norfolk (1936-1949)
Orlando (1937-1954)

Atlantic Ice and Coal ad, 1935. A 1935 Atlantic Ice and Coal Company ad.

Only the Atlanta and Charlotte facilities had canning lines, the others produced solely bottled beer.  Atlantic modified a bottling line to can their beer using cone tops in late 1949 or early 1950. That is why IRTP conetops from Atlantic are harder to find than non-IRTP.  A flat top canning line was installed in the Charlotte brewery in the early 1950's producing the two red ale and the beer plantation can pictured above. One collector who specializes in this brewery suggests that perhaps they invested their money in brewing & bottling equipment rather than experimenting with introducing the new fangled can.

During the 1940s the Atlantic Company was the largest regional brewer in the South.  Like all to many other such breweries around the country, however, competition from the big national brewers such as Anheuser-Busch and Schlitz, along with aging facilities, caused the company to fold.  Their plants in Chattanooga, Norfolk and Orlando closed first.  The Atlanta facility closed in 1955. 

The "Plantation can" seems to have been part of a last big sales push for the brewery. They announced an increase sales in 1954; 17 million cans and bottles.  In March 1955 the company announced that they had installed new canning equipment in the Charlotte facility, capable of filling 180 cans a minute, or 86,400 a day.  At the same time, Atlantic introduced the much more colorful "Plantation" can in March 1955 accompanied by a big advertising campaign.  The newspaper ads below appeared in March and June, respectively, of 1955.  Finally, however, the Charlotte brewery, which produced the can pictured above, became the final of the company's breweries to close in 1956.

Atlantic Beer ad March 1955. Atlantic ad, June 1955.
Atlantic ad, March 1955.
Atlantic Ad, June 1955.

A Backlash or Regional Pride?

Was the Plantation can part of the white Southern backlash against the Civil Rights Movement?  It appeared in 1955 just as the Civil Rights Movement was getting started.  The landmark Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas Supreme Court decision overturning Plessy v. Ferguson's "separate but equal" doctrine came in 1954. At roughly the same time Atlantic started this design, the Mountain Brewing Company in Roanoke, Virginia introduced a beer can for "Dixie" brand beer, featuring a Confederate gray calvary officer's cap with two crossed calvary swords.  Also, one of the Atlantic ads I found appeared in a North Carolina newspaper on the same page as a billboard which someone had painted to feature a Confederate battle flag and the words "The South Will Rise Again."  It seems possible that the new Atlantic can was part of the same context of the South reacting defensively to what many felt was an attack on "their way of life."

However, I think the Atlantic can came too early to be part of this backlash.  The Montgomery Bus Boycott, which launched the Rev. Martin Luther King to national prominence, came several months after the "Plantation" can was launched.   Moreover, the "moonlight and magnolias" myth of the South had been popular for decades before the 1950s (see the movie, "Gone With the Wind.")  Instead, I suspect the design was part of a regional pride campaign which was common to local and regional brewers in throughout the 1950s.  A-1 beer in Arizona used the slogan "The Western Way to Say Welcome."  Rainier Beer in Washington state bragged about its being a "western" beer, and several breweries in the upper midwest advertised they used good regional water such as Hamm's slogan "From the Land of Sky Blue Waters."  Baltimore's National Brewing used "From the Land of Pleasant Living."  Emphasizing local or regional ties was one tactic to use against the giant national brewers like Pabst and Schlitz.  Atlantic's "Beer of the South" with the scene straight from "Gone with the Wind" was probably part of the same trend.  If it was part of a backlash, it was at least more subtle than the "Dixie" beer can mentioned above. 

Atlantic Ale cone.

An Atlantic Ale cone with their trademark African-American waiter.

The black waiter was a common theme in brewery advertising (and food and drink advertising in general) for years, dating to before Prohibition, and common throughout the entire county, not just the South.  The Atlantic Company at least used a dignified-looking waiter. Other breweries sometimes used figures that were more Stepin Fetchit than Ossie Davis.  Evanston, Indiana's Cook Brewing seemed especially prone among breweries to using clownish African-American figures.   Atlantic's designs were more in tune with the same Southern plantation mythology represented by the "Plantation" can pictured above, with its elderly black "Uncle" and "Aunt" figures.   At least he's not saying "Yassah!"
(See the online Jim Crow Museum for more)

Some of the brands of beer produced by the Atlantic Company.   

Brands which appeared in cans are in italics.

(Note: not every brewery location brewed every brand.)
Old South Ale
Old South Pilsener Style Beer
Atlantic/Old South Ale
Atlantic/Old South Pilsener Beer
Atlantic/Old South Bock Beer
Atlantic Ale
Atlantic Beer
Atlantic Draft Beer
Steinerbru Pale Ale
Steinerbru Beer
Steinerbru Bock Beer
Signal Draft Beer
Signal Pale Dry Beer

Sources Used:

    Beer Can Collectors of America.  United States Beer Cans. (Beer Can Collectors of America: Fenton, Mo) 32.

    Beer Can Collectors of America. Catalog of American Beer Cans. (1993) .

    Jones, Ken.  "Full of Good Cheer" Beer Cans and Brewery Collectibles  (August/September 1997)  4-5

    Jones, Ken.  "Collecting Atlantic Company Labels" Atlantic Waves  (June 2003)

    Van Wieren, Dale P. American Breweries II  (West Point, PA.: East Coast Breweriana Association, 1995) 62.

    Numerous articles & ads were also used from the Statesville (North Carolina) Record and Landmark.

    Thanks to Ken Jones for additional info via email.

    Web sites

    Atlantic Brewing Company: from a  Florida can collector.

    A nice page on the Chattanooga Brewery.

    The current Atlantic Brewing Company, no relation to the one mentioned here.

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