If you grew up in Fort Worth a few—or more—decades ago, Uncle Jo orange-flavored “soda pop” may be one of your childhood memories. I remember it as the only bottled soft drink offered in the cafeteria of D. McRae Elementary School in the late 1950s.
Uncle Jo was bottled less than three miles from that cafeteria at Uncle Jo Bottling Company, and the company was a family affair.
In fact, several of the company’s soft drinks were named after family members.
Beginning, of course, with Uncle Jo himself.
Joseph Glazer was born in Russia in 1876 and came to America about 1888 with his family. They settled in St. Louis, where in 1898 Jo and brother Louis founded Star Bottling Company.
In St. Louis Jo met and married Ida Feldman.
Jo’s brother Louis moved to Dallas, where in 1909 he established Jumbo Bottling Company, which was soon renamed “Real Juice Bottling Works.” Louis and wife Bessie and their children worked at the bottling works and sold soft drinks from the back of a horse-drawn wagon.
The 1910 census lists brother Jo still in St. Louis as a soda manufacturer.
But by 1912 Jo and Ida were in Fort Worth, owners of Star Bottling Company. According to Courtney Glazer, great-granddaughter of Jo and Ida, Ida had worked for a chemist at a Kansas City bottling company and knew how to formulate extracts for soft drinks.
The Star bottles had a six-sided star embossed on the bottom.
In the 1920 census Jo, Ida, and daughter Florence were, respectively, proprietor, bookkeeper, and helper at the bottling company.
By 1921 the company was called “Star High Grade Cola Bottling Company” and had moved from Terry Street to 1111 East Front (Lancaster today) Street.
By 1923 daughter Edna had joined the family work force.
Courtney Glazer says that according to family lore, Uncle Jo bought retired horses from the fire department to haul the bottles. The problem was that the bottling company was only a few blocks from a fire station. Every time the fire alarm bells sounded, the horses were off and running, bottles bouncing and breaking in the wagon behind them.
By 1928 Uncle Jo was using trucks instead of horses, and his Star Bottling Company had become Uncle Jo Bottling Company. Jo Glazer himself built the bottling plant and the family home next door.
The original Uncle Jo soft drink was a fruit punch sold in a brown bottle.
Then it was Ida’s turn. The Aunt Ida flavor was made with a lemon-lime extract from Armour and Company.
Other Uncle Jo flavors were Cola, Texas Cola, Red Rock Cola, and Sugar Cane (a cream soda).
Siphon water and seltzer water were two more Uncle Jo products.
Over in Dallas, one of brother Louis’s Real Juice soft drinks would be a root beer called “Woosie,” named after Louis and Bessie’s grandson, Robert Samuel Glazer, whose nickname was “Woozie.”
After Prohibition ended in 1933 Louis Glazer would branch out into liquor and be granted one of Texas’s first alcohol distribution licenses. Glazer’s Distributing Company delivered alcohol to clubs and liquor stores that began springing up in parched Dallas. Louis’s sons Max, Fritz, and Nolan expanded Glazer’s statewide as liquor provided profits that soft drinks did not. Glazer’s Distributing continues today as Southern Glazer’s Wine and Spirits.
By 1935, after Prohibition ended, Uncle Jo also branched out into alcohol, distributing “the beer that made Milwaukee famous” in “the can that opens like a beer bottle.”
By 1941 sons Willard and Yale were working with Jo and Ida. It was Willard who came up with the idea of selling the Uncle Jo orange soft drink to the school district. Soft drink sales, Courtney Glazer says, were largely seasonal at the time. Getting Uncle Jo into the schools gave the company added sales from September through May.
Uncle Jo Glazer had died in 1944, and sons Yale, Willard, and Marvin had inherited the business. In the late 1940s the Pepsi-Cola bottler in Fort Worth went bankrupt. The brothers bought the Pepsi franchise, expanded their plant, and by 1949 Uncle Jo Pepsi-Cola Company and uncle Louis Glazer’s bottling plant in Dallas were selling Pepsi-Cola.
The Fort Worth Glazers also sold their flavor extracts in Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Oklahoma.
And two of Jo and Ida’s daughters opened their own bottling franchises.
Daughter Florence and husband Clarence Goldberg set up shop in Shreveport, Louisiana in 1930. The Aunt Ida flavor became popular there, and artist Earl Moran was commissioned to provide artwork for billboards featuring “Miss Aunt Ida.”
Earl Moran was best known for his pin-up paintings. One of his models in the 1940s was Marilyn Monroe.
Another soft drink bottled by the Shreveport franchise was Joys, named after Florence and Clarence’s daughter Joy.
In Alexandria, Louisiana, Jo and Ida’s daughter Edna and husband Milton Fox opened a franchise. One of their soft drinks was Sonny Boy. Courtney Glazer told me that the Sonny Boy flavor likely was named after Jo and Ida’s son Marvin.
The Fort Worth and Shreveport bottling operations were the strongest and survived into the 1970s and 1980s as Pepsi-Cola bottling companies.
Today the site of the Uncle Jo bottling plant in Fort Worth is a vacant lot in the shadow of the I35-I30 mixmaster.
And Jo and Ida Glazer are buried in Ahavath Sholom Cemetery.
(Thanks to Earl Belcher for the tip and to Courtney Glazer for the information and photos.)