Portrait of Joseph Jacobs, 1928

Portrait of Joseph Jacobs, 1928

Joseph Jacobs


Joseph Jacobs, a second-generation German-Jewish immigrant, built up a large retail drug-store chain in Atlanta in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. A scientist by training and an entrepreneur by nature, Jacobs possessed a unique combination of skills that helped him play a defining role in the Atlanta pharmacy trade for decades.


At the time of his death in 1929, Joseph Jacobs (born August 5, 1859 in Chicago, IL; died September 7, 1929 in Atlanta, GA) was the operator of sixteen retail drug stores in Atlanta and its suburbs. Today, he is perhaps best remembered as the owner of the drug store that housed the soda fountain that sold the very first Coca-Cola in May 1886. Within the pharmaceutical trade, Jacobs was well connected (he was a student, for instance, of the renowned surgeon and pharmacist Dr. Crawford Williamson Long), and his success in the industry resulted at least in small measure from certain fortuitous circumstances with respect to time and place. Still, Jacob’s long and prosperous career cannot be explained solely by good fortune and personal connections. His success was attributable to his education, his hardworking disposition, and his entrepreneurial acumen, but perhaps most importantly to his willingness to incorporate new technical advances in modern pharmaceutical science with familiar elements from the traditional apothecary arts.

Family, Social Background, and Education

Joseph Jacobs was born in Chicago on August 5, 1859. He was the oldest child of first-generation German immigrants Gabriel (dates unavailable) and Ernestine Heyman Jacobs (1841-1924). Joseph’s father, Gabriel Jacobs, hailed from what at the time was a county within the Prussian province of Posen called Filehne (a region eventually returned to Poland and now known as Wiele?). Gabriel and Ernestine had been married in 1858 in Chicago. While Joseph was still an infant, the young family relocated to the rural hamlet of Jefferson in Jackson County, Georgia. Jefferson is located roughly eighteen miles northeast of Athens; in 1860, Jackson County covered well over 300 square miles, but had a population of only 10,000. Although the area was overwhelmingly agricultural, small towns like Jefferson started developing at railroad junctions over the second half of the nineteenth century.

In 1901, Augustus Longstreet Hull (1847-1909) wrote a history of Athens and its neighboring environs. One of the area’s most prominent citizens, Hull was a banker, a trustee, and later treasurer of the University of Georgia. In his account, he identified Gabriel Jacobs as one of “[t]wo Israelites who settled here just in time to be caught amidships by the war.”[1] In addition, Hull informed his readers that Gabriel and the other “Israelite,” one Moses Myers, were engaged in a historically common profession for Jewish emigrants: both, as he noted, “[o]f course . . . went into dry goods, which afterwards became any and all kinds of goods.”[2] In general, Hull’s recollections rely on stereotypical language, but his account succeeds in conveying the social novelty of various young German-Jewish families arriving to set up shop in rural Georgia in the mid-nineteenth century.[3] At no point does Hull suggest that religious or ethnic prejudice played a dominant role in the experience of the Jacobs’ family. Instead, Hull recalls Gabriel Jacobs’ talent as tailor and praises his special contribution to the Confederate war effort:

When the conscript law was passed [April 16, 1862] Jacobs was physically exempt . . . All I recall about Gabriel Jacobs during the war is that he made soldier’s caps. He made one for me when I went to the army, which I thought then and still think was the nattiest, jauntiest cap a soldier ever wore, and ought to have been preserved in a glass case.[4]

As it happened, Jacobs and Myers both came from the small Prussian town of Filehne. Their emigration represented, in microcosm, a larger nineteenth-century immigration trend that saw many German Jews settle in the American South. Indeed, during the 1860s and 70s, more than a few German-Jewish families from Filehne moved to the Athens area.[5] Here, letters sent by recent immigrants to family members and friends back home surely played a significant role in patterns of immigration.

After Joseph’s birth, the Jacobs family continued to grow; eventually, it included four more sons and six daughters for a total of eleven children. By 1872, the Jewish community in Athens was large enough to warrant a synagogue. Gabriel and other elders in the community decided that it was time to stop gathering for worship in Robert Bloomfield’s blacksmith shop, and they set about to build a permanent synagogue. They “petitioned the Superior Court of Clarke County that a charter of incorporation be granted them for a congregation under the name of Kol Kadush Beni Yisroile and Congregation Children of Israel.”[6] The petition was readily approved; and in 1873 the “newly organized board of trustees purchased a parcel of land at the corner of Hancock and Jackson Streets” as well as “land in the Oconee Hills Cemetery . . . for use as a burial ground.”[7] After an additional tract of adjacent land was purchased in 1878, the synagogue was finally completed and dedicated in 1883. At the beginning of the formal life of the congregation in 1873, Gabriel “became the first reader (lay rabbi) of the congregation, and was its first religious school teacher.”[8]

Despite its placement along the rail lines northeast of Atlanta, Jefferson (and Jackson County more generally) were spared from the destruction by Union Army as part of Major General William T. Sherman’s (1820-91) Savannah Campaign (colloquially known as his “March to the Sea”) of November 15 to December 21, 1864. The war and Reconstruction, though, did bring difficult and varied economic and social transformations to the region.[9] Still, by all indications, the Jacobs family seems to have fared relatively well, possibly because they were well integrated into the non-agricultural professional class of the wider community beyond their immigrant enclave.

The family’s emphasis on assimilation can be seen, for example, in Gabriel Jacobs’ decision to send Joseph from the age of five (ca. 1864) to Jefferson’s Martin Institute, one of the earliest privately endowed academies for primary education in the nation. The Martin Institute was in fact so renowned that it drew students from other states and even foreign countries. Perhaps the Jacobs’ move to Jefferson from Chicago relatively soon after the birth of their first child was driven in part by a desire to seek out the best in educational opportunities for their children. Education was certainly a high priority for the Jacobs, as it often is for immigrant parents, and three of their five sons would become doctors. Later in life, Joseph still fondly recalled his instructors at the Martin Institute, a Mrs. Fannie Lester of Dalton, Georgia, and Professor S. Preston Orr of Athens.[10]

Joseph Jacobs vividly recalled living next door to a physician named Doster, which again suggests that the family was integrated into Jefferson’s business and professional class. He was fascinated with the human skeleton the doctor kept in his study along with the multitude of mysterious and colorful phials and bottles of medicines, and sundry pharmaceuticals.[11] It was possibly Joseph’s interest in these accoutrements of a country medical life that led his mother to encourage him to become a pharmacist. With this goal in mind, Joseph was apprenticed around the age of thirteen to one of the more significant pharmacist-surgeons in American history, Dr. Crawford Williamson Long (1815-1878). Along with his brother and a Dr. Hal C. Billups, Long operated a pharmacy under the name of “Long & Billups” located on Broad Street in Athens “opposite the midway entrance to the university campus.”[12] The campus referred to here is the University of Georgia, established in 1785 as the country’s first state-run university. The terms arranged for Joseph’s apprenticeship included no pay for the first six months, after which he would receive ten dollars a month. However, from the beginning it was understood that Joseph would receive regular instruction in pharmacology and the retail drug business from Dr. Long and his partner. He was also allowed breaks from work in order to attend the esteemed Dr. Henry Clay White’s (1848-1927) chemistry lectures at the university across the street.

Joseph Jacobs spent about five years as an apprentice, during which time he attended Prof. White’s lectures. In 1877, Gabriel Jacobs travelled north with his eighteen-year-old son to enroll him in the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy and Science.[13] In between classes, Joseph worked at the drug store of one C. C. Hughes at Race and Eighth Streets, the same corner on which Temple University is located. Jacobs was awarded the degree of Graduate in Pharmacy at the end of the 1878-79 academic year upon the completion and acceptance of a thesis on the Melia Azedarach, a species of mahogany tree commonly known as “white cedar” or “chinaberry.” Signing the thesis as “Joe Jacobs of Athens, Georgia,” he reviewed the typical features, attributes, growth patterns, and environmental requirements of the tree before detailing the chemical composition of its berries, bark, and resin, as well as their known and experimental apothecary uses. Jacobs’ thesis provides insight into the development of modern pharmaceutical science, as well as evidence of the continuing importance of physical and chemical experimentation with natural plant materials in the creation of health-inducing tonics and elixirs – a process common to the apothecary arts since time immemorial.

Jacobs’ Professional Career

Upon his graduation from the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy and Science in 1879, Jacobs returned to Athens. Since the town already had three pharmacists serving a population of only 6,000 people, Jacobs initially focused on two types of products: treatments to sell to country doctors and household products for country stores. With money loaned from a relative, he formed “Jacobs’ Pharmaceutical Laboratory.” Once he had enough sample wares, he set out in a horse and buggy – accompanied by his father – on his first sales trips throughout the north Georgia countryside. It is likely that Gabriel Jacobs was instrumental in teaching his son the mercantile craft, and he surely passed along the business contacts he had made in the region in order to help Joseph establish himself. After five years in business, Joseph Jacobs had saved enough money to move to the nearby state capital of Atlanta and purchase his first brick and mortar drug store.[14] To have achieved that level of success so quickly, Jacobs must have had the necessary chemical and apothecary know-how to create popular remedies, cosmetics, and household items to fill the shelves of pharmacies, doctor’s offices, and dry good stores in rural north Georgia.

In January 1884, Jacobs purchased the drugstore and larger building formerly owned by a childhood classmate named Dr. Walter A. Taylor. The drug store had been in operation since 1854 and was located at 2 Peachtree Street at the intersection with Marietta Street.[15] Jacobs renamed the drug store “Jacobs’ Pharmacy Company.” Since the building was spacious enough to house several distinct entities, Jacobs moved his pharmaceutical laboratory onto the premises as well, changing its name to the Galenol Company. The laboratory eventually became a separate entity from Jacobs’ Pharmacy Company. The building also housed the offices of a practicing physician named Dr. Fred Palmer.

“Jacobs’ Pharmacy Company” had one key feature at the front of the store to the right of the entrance: “a soda fountain that for size and elegance was regarded as one of the marvels of the state.”[16] The fountain was owned and operated separately from the pharmacy by one Willis E. Venable, “the self-styled ‘Soda Water King of the South,’”[17] who was assisted by his brother John and his son Edward. The soda fountain played a central role in American social life during the entirety of the Temperance and Prohibition eras from the 1830s until the repeal of the 18th Amendment in 1933. And it was here, near the entrance to Jacobs Pharmacy, that on May 8, 1886, the most successful product in the history of carbonated beverages was first sold to the public.

Excursus on the Soda Fountain, Jacobs Pharmacy, and Coca-Cola

In the nineteenth century, the general public still believed in the health benefits of mineral-laden water from naturally formed volcanic hot springs. For this reason, when the technology needed to create carbonated soda water first became widespread[18] in the nineteenth century, most soda fountains were housed in pharmacies and physician’s offices. The Long & Billups Pharmacy, where Jacobs worked as an apprentice, contained one of the very first soda fountains in Athens. There, university students and town residents would congregate at the front of the pharmacy to drink flavored soda, trade gossip, and argue Reconstruction-Era politics.[19] Jacobs recalled that the ornate marble fountain was constructed by the Puffer Company, and that it measured approximately three-feet wide by three-feet tall. It dispensed from metallic containers “in order of popularity” the following list of flavored syrups mixed with soda water: “Strawberry, Raspberry, Lemon, Pineapple, Vanilla, Sarsaparilla, Orgeat (a kind of almond flavor), and one called ‘Don’t Care.’”[20] The last option at many fountains was a drink containing alcohol from either wine or liquor, but, in this case, given Dr. Long’s support of teetotalism, it only meant a mixture of many flavored syrups. Early soda fountains, such as the one at Long & Billups Pharmacy, required the on-site creation of carbon-dioxide infused water, and Jacobs helped make it. Down in the basement of the pharmacy, he used “bicarbonate of soda and sulphuric acid” (later marble dust) to generate the fizzy “soda” water that would be mixed in the fountain with syrups derived from pure fruit juices shipped from New York.[21]

When Jacobs bought out Walter Taylor’s Atlanta pharmacy in 1884, the Venable soda fountain housed on the property was already a successful venture, selling “about $150 worth of the beverage every day (approximately $3,550 in 2011).”[22] Until his marriage to Clair Sartorius (1862-1910), circa 1886, Jacobs shared rooms above the pharmacy with one of his brothers and John Venable, and they “frequently had to beg those who applied for drinks up to midnight to leave and let us get some sleep and rest.”[23] Jacobs recalled that “[o]n a warm summer day I have seen as many as twenty or thirty customers lined up on the sidewalk waiting their ‘turn’ at the fountain, while many more were being served their drinks.”[24] In 1885, Fulton County became a “dry” county, meaning that alcoholic beverages could no longer be sold anywhere. This only served to increase the social importance of the soda fountain.

Meanwhile, another Atlanta pharmacist by the name of Dr. John Stith Pemberton (1831-88) had been making proprietary medicines such as Indian Hair Dye, Triplex Liver Pills, and Globe Flower Cough Syrup since the early 1870s but always with limited success. In 1884, he created a wine-based drink as an analgesic. Its numbing effect was produced – as its name suggests – from an extract of the coca plant, better known as the source from which cocaine is derived. The drink showed promise, and Pemberton named it “French Wine of Coca.” Once the county went dry, Pemberton retired to his laboratory at 107 Marietta Street to come up with a substitute for his alcoholic beverage. In the spring of 1886, he developed a caramel-colored syrup containing a variety of plant and fruit flavors; it was intended as a refreshing and restorative soda fountain drink for the cure of headaches, hangovers, and stomachache. Pemberton sent the syrup around the corner to Jacobs’ Pharmacy in May to be sold at Venable’s Soda Fountain for 5 cents a glass under the name of Coca-Cola: a name given to the drink by Pemberton’s business partner Frank M. Robinson (1845-1923).

The world’s most successful soda was not a hit at first. One impediment to its early success was Pemberton’s spotty business practices and his perpetual indebtedness. Jacobs had come to own Willis Venable’s original one-third share of stock in Coca-Cola as a form of repayment for money that he had loaned Venable to build a house. However, the stock had a clause whereby Pemberton received a royalty of 5 cents per gallon, and Jacobs recalled that Coca-Cola’s inventor “seemed to be pressed for money pretty much all the time and was having money advanced constantly based on the potential royalty. This did not please me.”[25] After all, the drink only sold twenty-five gallons in its first year, and Jacobs’ business interests were in pharmaceutical development and retail, not in the marketing, brewing, and distribution of a soda. After complaining to his friend and fellow pharmacist Asa Griggs Candler (1851-1929) about the Coca-Cola stock and the royalties he had to pay on it, Candler proposed to take it off of Jacobs’ hands in exchange for “some stock in a glass factory on South Pryor Street.” As Jacobs recalled, “This factory, on which the insurance had been allowed to lapse, was destroyed shortly afterward by fire. In addition to the stock I was to receive some odds and ends such as bed pans, pewter syringes, wooden pill boxes, and empty bottles.”[26] In the end, these pharmaceutical supplies amounted to less than two thousand dollars’ worth of merchandise left over from Candler’s failing wholesale and retail drug business at Peachtree Street and Auburn Avenue. After acquiring Jacobs’ share, Candler went on to purchase the Coca-Cola formula from Pemberton in July 1887 and quickly bought out all of the remaining shares of stock as well. He then focused his sales and marketing skills on founding and developing the Coca-Cola Company, which he would eventually sell in 1919 for $25 million ($325 million in 2011).

Jacobs Professional Career, Continued

To be sure, Jacobs missed his chance to become part of the phenomenal success of Coca-Cola; but this fact should in no way serve as an indictment of his business acumen. He had neither the time nor inclination to invest in the development and marketing of a soda. It took Candler’s aggressive, single-minded, and skilled advertising and marketing efforts to turn Coca-Cola Company into the success it became. Jacobs’s interest, expertise, and skill, on the other hand, was in the retail sale of drugs and pharmaceutical supplies.

As a brick and mortar retailer, Jacobs enjoyed particular success. After purchasing Walter Taylor’s Pharmacy, he immediately remodeled its 1,000 square-foot premises in a way that maximized its retail space. He installed floor-to-ceiling shelving, so that overstock could be kept up high and accessed by a sliding ladder. He also placed popular, ready-to-purchase wares within prime sight lines in the windows and near the front to capture more pedestrian business. Most importantly, Jacobs adapted and was the first Atlanta retailer to make use of “cut-rate” pricing; in fact, he was the first merchant in the South to do so. At the time, he joined the handful of select retail pharmacists – including Charles W. Jaynes of Boston, J. N. Hegeman of New York, John R. Raboteau of St. Louis, Read of Baltimore, Hall & Lyon of Providence, and Loder of Philadephia[27] – who had begun to sell retail drugs for less than the manufacturers’ desired “full price.” These retailers were taking advantage of the fact that they had received deeper discounts from the product manufacturers because they could buy in higher volumes. Cut-rate pricing practice was – and still is – central to the growth of retail chain stores, and individual small businesses generally cannot compete. Therefore, Jacobs’ small business competitors often tried to pressure drug and manufacturing suppliers to stop selling to him if he continued to undercut their recommended retail prices. Jacobs responded with a series of uniformly successful anti-trust lawsuits that were filed in defense of his business practices. The successful lawsuits, and the cut-rate pricing that precipitated them, were essential to the expansion of Jacobs’ business to ten retail stores by 1910 and sixteen by the time of his death in 1929. Additionally, his low prices helped him grow a substantial mail-order business with an international reach.

In order to pass his savings from bulk wholesale purchases on to his consumers, Jacobs took an additional and quite remarkable step at the time: he became the first Atlanta retailer to make exact change to the penny instead of rounding to the nearest nickel. Since there were no pennies in circulation in Atlanta at the time, Jacobs recalled: “In the fall of 1884 Mr. J. H. Porter, president of the Merchants’ National Bank, ordered $25 worth of new pennies from the mint at Washington, at my request.”[28] After this large supply of pennies arrived, Jacobs was able to give exact change for prices reduced to non-rounded numbers such as 29 or 98 cents. “At one time, in Jacobs’ main store at Five Points, he installed a window with nothing but pennies and a sign, ‘Jacobs Pharmacy, the Birthplace of Cut Prices!’”[29]

Jacobs’ career unfolded during a fascinating period in which the pharmacy business reflected increasing scientific rigor, as seen in the development of new pharmaceutical materials and drugs, but still remained true to its herbalist origins – Jacobs, for instance, still grew many of his own medicinal plants and herbs. In fact, in Jacob’s time, the pharmacy business continued to reflect “hucksterism” that has always been associated with the apothecary arts. While most products that he created or sold had some medical or health-related value, Jacobs also produced a number of popular products with little, or even no, such worth. A number of such remedies – including a purported cure for gonorrhea and elixirs to restore sexual virility – were eventually prohibited after the passage of various federal regulatory acts, such as the 1906 Pure Food and Drug Act or the 1938 Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.[30] “Dr. Fred Palmer’s Skin Whitener” is one spurious product that reflects the interplay between popular consumer desires and the sometimes fine line between “hucksterism” and scientifically sound health and cosmetic items. This purported skin bleach was produced in-house by Jacobs’ Galenol Company, and it was named after the physician whose offices were located on the premises of the Jacobs’ Pharmacy building. Dr. Palmer’s patients came primarily from Atlanta’s black community, and the skin whitener was popular among those subject to Jim Crow legislated southern racial segregation.

By the spring of 1886, Jacobs was skilled in the creation of generic versions (knockoffs) of more expensive, nationally-branded medical remedies, elixirs, and health and beauty products. Since the very start of his career in the early 1880s, when he peddled pharmaceutical wares throughout the north Georgia countryside, and even after the establishment of his first brick-and-mortar pharmacy in Atlanta, Jacobs advertised his business through posters and billboards plastered alongside railways and country roads. In fact, he always put great emphasis on advertising, paying to have his advertisements placed on the front page of the Atlanta Journal; after that newspaper decided to eliminate front-page advertising and to move paid announcements to the middle, Jacobs became the first Atlanta retailer to take out a full-page ad. One amusing byproduct of Jacobs’ aggressive marketing tactics was that one product, Luxomni (from the Latin meaning “light for all”), a feminine health and beauty remedy, eventually lent its name to a small Georgia town. Apparently, Jacobs had placed a “large wooden signboard . . . with the name ‘Luxomni, for Women’ painted thereon”[31] at the railroad depot one mile east of Lilburn in Gwinnett County. When a town began to spring up there in 1891, it adopted the name, and the sign, of Jacobs’ cosmetic product as its own. However, over the course of the twentieth century, Luxomni was completely absorbed by its expanding neighbor, Lilburn, and the name now survives only in the form of a single road.[32]

Jacobs should not be judged harshly for those products that reflect poorly on the apothecary arts, for he always advocated the intellectual advancement of his chosen profession. In an essay that reflected on his life in the trade, he acknowledged his earlier failings in the apothecary arts, while celebrating the field’s ongoing improvement in terms of scientific rigor.[33] Jacobs was an active lifelong member of the American Pharmaceutical Association, and he made numerous scholarly contributions to the APA’s annual meetings, including historical articles for publication, such as “Some of the Drug Conditions During the War Between the States, 1861-1865.”[34] During Jacobs’ tenure as chairman of the Commercial Section of the APA, the U.S. State Department conducted a survey of the state of the pharmaceutical business throughout the world. The survey was undertaken at Jacobs’ behest and his committee provided guidance.[35] Likewise, Jacobs was an active and supportive alumnus of the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy. He was even called upon to deliver speeches at commencements and alumni functions; for example, the year that his son Sinclair was graduated from the college, Jacobs delivered a speech entitled “The History of Coca-Cola.”[36] Sinclair followed his father into the family business and inherited control of the Jacobs Pharmacy Co. in 1929.

Jacobs’ greatest scholarly contribution to the history of medicine was the biographical pamphlet entitled Dr. Crawford W. Long: The Distinguished Physician-Pharmacist (1919). In this short book, Jacobs provides extensive evidence of Long’s role as the “discoverer of surgical anaesthesia.”[37] Whereas Long, according to Jacobs, had only begun publishing accounts of “his experiments in the use of sulphuric ether in surgery” in 1849, he had already convinced one patient, James M. Venable, to “submit to the ‘dangerous drug’”[38] on March 3, 1842, in Jefferson, Georgia. Jacobs’ attempts to prove and publicize Long’s claim to forerunner status in the history of surgical anesthesia ultimately succeeded after years of effort, and even at significant personal expense.[39] Among other contributions to the cause, Jacobs was the lead organizer, fundraiser, and financial backer of the successful initiative to sculpt and install a statue of Long as one of two representatives of the state of Georgia in the National Statuary Hall of Fame in Washington, DC. He also paid to erect a monument to Long on the campus of the University of Georgia, as well as another on the Court House Square of Danielsville, the town in which his mentor had been born.

Jacobs’ Public Life and the Wider Social Context

In 1884, when Joseph Jacobs opened his pharmacy, Atlanta had approximately 40,000 residents and boasted a six-story hotel, a horse-drawn street railway system, and even a telephone exchange. It also had a Jewish population of about 600 people of overwhelmingly German heritage; the large majority was engaged in business as proprietors, selling goods and materials of all varieties, or in white-collar professions.[40] From 1885 on, the emigration of Jews to Atlanta continued unabated; this new wave of Jewish immigration was primarily from Russia and other parts of Eastern Europe, however. In comparison to the earlier wave of German Jews, these newer Jewish immigrants were far more religious and less well educated; they were also more resistant to assimilation. German Jews had, in fact, assimilated quite successfully into the general business and professional classes of Atlanta. Although Jews were not allowed to join the most exclusive groups for Atlanta’s elites, such as debutante societies or country clubs, most of the men joined Masonic lodges. Their integration into the commercial and civic life of the city likely aided the community’s assimilation in general. Overall, Atlanta’s Jewish community tended to be apolitical, if one judges by how rarely any member ran for elected office, and they were overwhelmingly anti-socialist. [41]

Strong and fearsome manifestations of anti-Semitism in Atlanta were non-existent until the infamous Leo Frank (1884-1915) trial for the sensational murder of fourteen year-old Mary Phagan in 1913. It is highly unlikely that Frank, who happened to be a leading member of the Jewish community, was guilty of the crime; yet he was summarily convicted to death by jury, after which Georgia’s governor John M. Slaton (1866-1955) attempted to redress the wrong by commuting his sentence in 1915. The outcry to the Governor’s action was so fierce that Frank ended up being lynched by a mob from Phagan’s hometown of Marietta.[42] The Frank trial and subsequent lynching was both a horrendous display of anti-Semitic sentiment and an aberration in Atlanta history. It did cause some members of the city’s Jewish population to leave the city, either temporarily or permanently, out of fear for their safety, and it also inspired the organization of the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith. Overall, however, the Frank lynching did not stop Atlanta’s Jewish community from growing from 4,500 in 1910, five years before the lynching, to 11,000 in 1920, five years after it. By the time of Jacobs’ death in 1929, the population of Atlanta was around 270,000, and its Jewish population of approximately 12,000 had remained constant at just over four percent of the total.[43]

Jacobs did not write any personal recollections that touched on the Frank lynching; nor did he leave behind any material that speaks specifically to his sense of social and ethnic identity, whether as a Jew or as the son of German immigrants. He lived in an affluent neighborhood that was home to a mix of Jewish and Gentile families of means. However, Jacobs certainly maintained a presence in the Jewish community as member of Atlanta’s oldest synagogue, the Hebrew Benevolent Congregation of Midtown. After his death on September 7, 1929, Jacobs was buried in a family mausoleum at Atlanta’s Oakland Cemetery on “Jewish Hill” among many of Atlanta’s wealthiest nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century Jewish residents. The mausoleum also served as the final resting place of Jacobs’ wife, Clair, and their two children, Wilfred Lasker (August 1, 1887-October 23, 1900) and Sinclair Sartorius Jacobs (October 27, 1888-July 3, 1977).

In his most extensive autobiographical reflections, Jacobs referred to himself simply as a “Georgia country boy.”[44] Along with his professional activities, through which he earned respect and esteem within the pharmaceutical trade and the larger Atlanta business community, Jacobs remained an active supporter of his two alma maters. His engagement with the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy has already been noted, and it is worth mentioning that he remained closely connected to the University of Georgia as well, even penning a series of biographical sketches of important persons in the history of the institution for the Bulletin of the University of Georgia. In the years immediately following the Leo Frank lynching, Jacobs’ son Sinclair “was among the first men in Atlanta to volunteer for service in the [First World War].”[45] Jacobs ran advertisements informing the public of the “46 Stars in [the pharmacy’s] Service Flag,” listing the names of all those connected with or employed by Jacobs’ chain of stores and laboratory. It is possible, but idle, to speculate whether Jacobs’ decision to advertise the patriotism of his son and employees was motivated by concerns that he may have had either as a Jew in the wake of the Frank lynching or as the son of German immigrants in a time of war against his parents’ country of birth.

Additional evidence of Jacobs’ assimilation into the wider community of a state and region settled largely by Scottish and Scots-Irish Protestant immigrants and their descendants is his deep and abiding love for the poetry of Robert Burns (1759-96). Appreciation for the artistry of Scotland’s national poet inspired Jacobs to organize and found the Atlanta Burns Club. The club held its first meeting on Burns’ birthday, January 25, in 1896, the centenary of his death. Jacobs gradually assembled an impressive private collection of the work of Burns, totaling 734 books and manuscripts. His admiration for Burns ran so deep that Jacobs purchased a tract of land that became 988 Alloway Place SE in Atlanta, and upon which he erected a replica of the cottage in which Burns was born in Alloway, Scotland. Completed in 1911, the cottage is the only such tribute to Burns in the world. Today, the cottage functions as the meeting place of the Atlanta Burns Club, which still remains active a century after its founding.


Although Joseph Jacobs’ parents were first-generation German immigrants to America, they chose not to raise their son in an ethnic enclave that emphasized the language and Kultur of their native land. Rather, they opted to identify with a small, diffuse German-Jewish community whose members gathered on the Sabbath to worship in rural north Georgia, but who were otherwise scattered throughout the countryside as a result of their involvement in the mercantile trades. Joseph Jacobs’ parents laid the groundwork for his career in the pharmacy business though their emphasis on both general education and the acquisition of practical training. At the time when Jacobs embarked on his career, German-Jewish immigrants were overrepresented (in terms of their percentage of the total population) in the mercantile and general retail trades, but not in the retail pharmaceutical trade. Jacobs’ mother may have encouraged her son to pursue a career in the pharmaceutical trade because she sensed its assimilative potential; on the other hand, she may have only wished, more generally, to see her children succeed materially in the land to which she and her husband had emigrated. Whatever the case, Jacobs’ parents played a supportive role in his career, especially early on. Likewise, Jacobs profited from larger historical forces that proved beneficial to his trade: namely, the teetotalism and prohibition movements, which increased the importance of soda fountains as communal gathering places. Although Jacobs’ benefitted from connections and auspicious circumstances, he was possessed of a great independent capacity for entrepreneurial innovation,[46] and this must be seen as the cornerstone of his longstanding commercial success. Joseph Jacobs may have lived to regret selling his early partial stake in a certain soda fountain syrup that eventually achieved worldwide fame, but he still changed the pharmaceutical trade in Atlanta (and indeed the entire retail trade in the South), not least through his cut-rate prices and his introduction of prices that were not rounded to the nearest nickel. In the process, he amassed a considerable fortune that he used to enrich the civic and cultural life of the city.


[1] Augustus Longstreet Hull, Annals of Athens, Georgia, 1801-1901, with an introduction by Dr. Henry Hull (Athens, GA: Banner Job Office, 1906), 385.

[2] Hull, Annals of Athens, Georgia, 1801-1901, 385-6. For centuries, European Jews had been over-represented in the mercantile trades and shop-keeping businesses. For a discussion of the historical forces at play, see Jerry Z. Muller, Capitalism and the Jews (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2011).

[3] As a point of comparison, it is estimated that in 1875 there were 400 Jews living in the state capital of Atlanta out of a total population of 31,000. See Arnold Shankman, “Atlanta Jewry—1900-1930,” American Jewish Archives, volume 25 (November 1973): 154.

[4] Hull, Annals of Athens, Georgia, 1801-1901, 386.

[5] Tracy Coley Ingram, “Classic Places: Temple serves as ‘center or Jewish life in Northeast Georgia,’ Congregation Children of Israel,” Online Athens: Athens Banner-Herald, posted Thursday, January 24, 2002. Last accessed on October 24, 2014.

[6]Athens, Georgia,” in Encyclopedia of Southern Jewish Communities, an online project of the Goldring-Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life. Last accessed on October 24, 2014.

[7] Ibid.

[9] For an overview of Reconstruction written from the currently dominant historiographical perspective of revisionism aimed at the earlier “Dunning School,” see Michael W. Fitzgerald, Splendid Failure: Postwar Reconstruction in the American South (Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2007).

[10] Joseph Jacobs, “Some Personal Recollections of a Georgia Country Boy in a Georgia Drug Store,” Drug Topics: The National Magazine of the Drug Trade (November 1926): 69.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Joseph Jacobs, Dr. Crawford W. Long: The Distinguished Physician-Pharmacist. Some Personal Recollections and Private Correspondence of Dr. Crawford Williamson Long Discoverer of Anaesthesia with Sulphuric Ether together with documentary Proofs of his Priority in this Wonderful Discovery (Atlanta: 1919), 3.

[13] Founded in 1821 as the nation’s first college of pharmacy, it has operated continuously since then and is now a part of the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia.

[14] Jacobs, “Some Personal Recollections of a Georgia Country Boy in a Georgia Drug Store,” 70-1.

[15] The intersection was known at the time as the “Norcross Corner.” Today it is called “Five Points.”

[16] Jacobs, “Soda Water in the 70s,” The Silver Cow, Atlanta Georgia (April 1929): 8.

[17] Frederick Allen, Secret Formula (New York: HarperCollins, 1994), 28.

[18] The mechanical process for creating soda water was first invented by Englishman Joseph Priestley (1733-1804) in 1767.

[19] Jacobs, “Soda Water in the 70s,” 8.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Ibid. Here as elsewhere in this entry, sums are converted to 2011 U.S. dollars via www.measuringworth.com, on the basis of the Consumer Price Index.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Joseph Jacobs, “How I Won and Lost an Interest in Coca-Cola,” The Silver Cow, “Soda Fountain Candy and Luncheonette Section” (July 1929): 1.

[26] Ibid.

[27] List included in Jacobs’ Monthly Magazine, published by Jacobs Pharmacy Company, volume 8, number 1 (April 1918): 1.

[28] As quoted in “Who’s Who and What’s What in the Drug World,” The Pharmaceutical Era, volume 50, number 9 (September 1917): 293.

[29] Clarence Feibelman, “Recollections from Mr. Clarence Feibelman of 9 March 1977,” located in the Joseph Jacobs’ Archive at the Atlanta History Center.

[30] Ibid.

[31] As quoted in “Who’s Who and What’s What in the Drug World,” 293.

[32] James C. Flanigan, History of Gwinnett County, 1818-1960, Volume II (Gwinnett County, GA: Tyler & Co., 1984).

[33] See Jacobs, “Some Personal Recollections of a Georgia Country Boy in a Georgia Drug Store,” 62-72, 182-6, and 191-8.

[34] Joseph Jacobs, “Some of the Drug Conditions During the War Between the States, 1861-1865,” The Georgia Historical Quarterly, volume 10, number 3 (September 1926): 200-22. Originally, this paper was read as part of the Proceedings of the American Pharmaceutical Association’s annual meeting, which was held in Baltimore in August 1898.

[35] See “Minutes of the Section on Commercial Interests,” in Proceedings of the American Pharmaceutical Association, volume 46 (1898): 115. A copy of this rigorous survey is included in the Jacobs’ Papers Collection in the archives at the Atlanta History Center.

[36] “The History of Coca-Cola” was given as a speech at The Professors’ Supper as part of the Commencement Week events of the 1909 graduating class (which included his son Sinclair Sartorius Jacobs) at the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy. See “The Professors’ Supper,” Alumni Report, volume 46, issue 6 (June 1909): 145.

[37] Jacobs, Dr. Crawford W. Long: The Distinguished Physician-Pharmacist, 3. (See note 12 for full citation.)

[38] Ibid., 7.

[39] See the anonymous posthumous tribute to Dr. Jacobs in the 1930 edition of the Galenite Yearbook, published by the Galen Pharmaceutical Society.

[40] Steven Hertzberg, Strangers within the Gate City: The Jews of Atlanta, 1845-1915 (Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society of America, 1978), Table 3 on p. 232 and Table 10 on pp. 236-37.

[41] For a full review and discussion of this topic, see Shankman, “Atlanta Jewry—1900-1930,” 131-55; and Hertzberg, Strangers within the Gate City.

[42] The academic literature on the Frank case is extensive, as is its portrayal in television and film. Books published on the subject since 2000 alone include: Jeffrey Paul Melnick, Black-Jewish Relations on Trial:LeoFrankand Jim Conley in the New South (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2000); Steve Oney, And the Dead Shall Rise: The Murder of Mary Phagan and the Lynching ofLeoFrank (New York: Pantheon, 2003); Leonard Dinnerstein, TheLeoFrankCase (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2008); and Matthew Bernstein, Screening a Lynching: TheLeoFrankCase on Film and Television (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2009).

[43] Shankman, “Atlanta Jewry—1900-1930,” 154.

[44] Jacobs, “Some Personal Recollections of a Georgia Country Boy in a Georgia Drug Store,” 62-72, 182-6, and 191-8.

[45] “Letting the Public Know,” American Druggist & Pharmaceutical Record, volume 67, number 1 (January 1919): 62.

[46] Jacobs fits Christian Bruyat and Pierre-André Julien’s typology of “valorization” as described in their essay, “Defining the Field of Research in Entrepreneurship,” Journal of Business Venturing, volume 16 (2001): 165-80.

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Article Title Joseph Jacobs
  • Coverage 1859-1929
  • Author
  • Website Name Immigrant Entrepreneurship
  • URL
  • Access Date June 15, 2024
  • Publisher German Historical Institute
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update August 22, 2018