Chattanooga capitalist and philanthropist John Thomas Lupton was born near Winchester, Virginia in 1862. Lupton received a law degree from the University of Virginia and settled in Chattanooga in 1887, following a visit to the home of a fellow student, Lewis Coleman. His first law partner was William Gibbs McAdoo, later secretary of the Treasury and son-in-law of Woodrow Wilson. Lupton served as legal counsel for the Chattanooga Medicine Company, eventually becoming vice-president and treasurer of the company (1891-1906). His marriage to Elizabeth Olive Patten, the daughter of the company’s president, Z. Cartter Patten, was a major social event of Chattanooga’s 1889 season. The couple had one son, Thomas Cartter Lupton.
In 1899 Lupton joined Benjamin Franklin Thomas and Joseph Brown Whitehead in a partnership to bottle Coca-Cola, an agreement that gave the three exclusive bottling rights for most of the United States. Lupton served as vice-president of the newly chartered Coca-Cola Bottling Company and became the most successful of the three bottling pioneers. In 1900 the partners split the bottling territory, with Lupton and Whitehead receiving most of the western United States and the South. They established “parent” bottling companies to grant local franchise bottling rights. Following Whitehead’s death in 1906, Lupton took a more active role in management, serving as president or director of many of the bottling companies.
In addition to the soft drink business, Lupton maintained various other business interests. In 1906 he joined his father-in-law in organizing and promoting the Volunteer State Life Insurance Company. He served as president of the Stone Fort Land Company, developers of important real estate holdings in downtown Chattanooga. In 1910 he purchased and oversaw the revival of the Thacher Medicine Company. Around 1920 he completed construction of the Dixie Mercerizing Company and served as president of the mill, which became a leader in the southern textile industry. Today, the company operates as Dixie Yarns. Adjacent to the plant site, he developed a modern planned company town, known as Lupton City, now a part of Chattanooga.
In later life Lupton concentrated on philanthropy as much as business. He became a major financial supporter of several southern colleges and universities including Oglethorpe College, the University of the South, the University of Chattanooga, George Peabody College, Agnes Scott College, and his alma maters, Roanoke College and the University of Virginia. He served as trustee for many of these schools. He was the leader in the acquisition of land and the construction of new buildings for Baylor School, a Chattanooga preparatory school and frequent recipient of his generosity.
In 1909 Lupton built “Lyndhurst,” at the time one of the largest estates in the South, in the Chattanooga residential community of Riverview. He died at his summer home near Sapphire, North Carolina, following complications from an appendectomy. He was buried in Chattanooga’s Forest Hills Cemetery.
Ned L. Irwin, “Bottling Gold: Chattanoogas Coca-Cola Fortunes,” Tennessee Historical Quarterly 51 (Winter 1992): 223-37