Sodas, including Coca-Cola, Pepsi Cola, RC Crown, and Nehi cola, have been a part of the life and culture of UTEP since the very beginning. While Coke is an iconic American beverage, it has shared the spotlight on campus with many other beverages. Currently, Coca Cola products have exclusive pour rights on campus, meaning that by contract with the local Coca-Cola bottler, only Coke products can be sold and served on campus--an arrangement in place since 2011 and guaranteed through 2018. (Prior to 2011, Pepsi Cola was the exclusive beverage of UTEP). Nonetheless, several soft drink brands have been served at UTEP’s picnics, bean feeds, and celebrations throughout the past 100 years.
For the first decade of its existence, the School of Mines and Metallurgy (now UTEP) had no food services or vending machines. In the 1920s, Lloyd Nelson, a TSM alumni and professor, purchased the rights to operate a co-op store in a room located in the Main Building. In addition to selling textbooks and school supplies, Nelson's co-op featured sandwiches and "cold drinks" and milk. There is no indication as to the brand of cold drinks he sold; however, a prominent advertiser in the Prospector of the day included both Nehi Cola and Dr Pepper, along with Hawkins and Price Dairies.
The Prospector began accepting advertising in January 1921. However, it would not be until May 1932, that the first advertisement for a soft drink would appear. The honor went to Dr Pepper, a ubiquitous Texas brand first produced in Waco.
Prospector, UTEP Library Special Collections
The first ad for a non-carbonated beverage appeared ten years earlier. The ad pitched pure ice and distilled water from the El Paso Ice Company.
In the long history of UTEP, cola drinks have been the preferred beverage at picnics, "bean feeds," and social soirées. In 1940 the Tri-Delta Sorority planed an informal party in which they planned to entertain male dates and female pledges. This gathering was termed the “Coke-tail” in which the sisters served Coca-Cola to their guests and paired it with open-faced sandwiches. The coke-themed parties became a fundamental part of Greek-life on campus for several years, including the annual “Coke Party” thrown by the Kappa Sigma Kappa Fraternity. During this gathering called a “swing-session” the brothers and their co-ed guests would drink Coca-Cola, dance, and sing. Soda was served at numerous student picnics and bean feeds. If a group of students was packing up to picnic at McKelligon Canyon, the Rio Grande, Leesburg Dam, the Rocks, Orogrande, White Sands, Cloudcroft, Hueco Tanks, or the swimming pool, they were sure to load the cooler with ice and soda. During the annual tradition of whitewashing the Miner “M” the students were ready to wash down their beans and coffee with an ice-cold soda. After lively Sadie-Hawkins Day events, the single ladies and their captured husbands would cool-down and seal the deal with sodas in their hands.
In the 1960’s the locally operated Magnolia Coca-Cola Bottling Company sponsored the Gold Helmet award to an outstanding athlete after each football game. The Gold Helmet became a coveted honor for the football players. The award did not always go the expected player. For instance in November 1967, the Gold Helmet award went to Brooks Dawson, a second-string quarterback who threw 20 passes with 9 completions, six of which were touchdown passes.
Also the 1960’s introduced the convenience of the coke-machine to the campus. With the convenience also came increased prices, machine maintenance issues, and coke-machine burglars. In May 1969, the price of a machine-vended Coca-Cola at UTEP went up. The reason for the increase was that the company switched from glass bottles to plastic ones. Representative for the Coca-Cola Bottling Company, Juan Silva, offered that the switch to plastic was made because the students were not returning the glass bottles. Plastic, Silva offered, costs more to produce than glass. In 1970, The Prospector reported that both Kelly and Holliday Halls’ coke machines had been burglarized, an incident that was not too unusual on campus during that time. In 1974 a business professor, Allen O. Baylor, conducted a study which suggested that in a four week period, seven students had lost $5.60 in coke machines. Baylor suggested that the sampling could indicate a possible total loss of about $20,000 in a years’ time. Mike Bates, a sales manager for the Magnolia Coca-Cola Bottling Company told The Prospector that the losses may come from machine abuse and misuse. “One machine in Old Main,” he offered, “was recently out of order because paper clips had been stuck in the coin receiver.” Also in 1974 the price of Coca-Cola was raised again, from 15 cents to 20 cents. This increase, Bates advised, was due to an increase in the cost of sugar.
Today, the Coca-Cola machines are well-maintained, burglaries of the machines are nearly unheard of, and the prices are stable. Perhaps the only major change in recent years has been that the students don’t throw the plastic bottles away but dispose of them instead in recycle bins. To drink a Coca-Cola product on the campus of UTEP is a natural as talking to an old friend. Coca-Cola has been the center of the social and epicurean histories at the university, and it is likely that Coca-Cola will remain a Miner for many more years to come, or at least until 2018, when the University negotiates a new deal that includes more favorable terms (profit to the university) with another bottler.
Today, modern universities, like many large organizations that sell liquid refreshments, sign exclusive "pour rights" agreements with local bottlers. At UTEP, both Coca-Cola and Pepsi have competed for the right to be the exclusive beverage of the school. Under pour rights agreements, the bottler agrees to provide all of the vending equipment at no cost (usually), as well as participating in promotions, in exchange for a monopoly on beverage sales. All the school typically pays for is the syrup that goes into each product at fountains, and for each bottled beverage. Prior to 2011, Pepsi held the pour rights to the university. In 2010, Coca-Cola won the contract from Pepsi with a guaranteed seven-year deal. That is why it is no longer possible to purchase Mountain Dew, a Pepsi product, on the UTEP campus today.
When UTEP first opened in 1914, the school had a general prohibition on the consumption of alcohol on campus. Within four years, Prohibition was the law of the land. El Paso, however, being and international port of entry, provided easy access to a ready supply of alcoholic beverages. While weapons were smuggled into Mexico as part of the revolution, liquor flowed the other way back into the United States. However, with relative ease, a student of the School of Mines could board a trolly car and be whisked across the border where they were presented with a wide range of saloons and establishments to quench their thirst. Those students who were caught returning to their dorms in an inebriated state faced disciplinary actions, up to and including expulsion.
In 1976, the establishment of a pub in the Union Complex that would serve alcoholic beverages came close to being approved. After the request was denied by the administration due to concerns of expense, rumors began to circulate that a dean of Liberal Arts, Ray Small, lobbied to kill to proposal as he was an investor in an establishment adjacent to the university and did not want the competition.
Coke versus Pepsi? Which cola product is the preferred beverage of UTEP? For a researcher, that can hard to determine with any great accuracy. For over a century, Coca-Cola has held a place in American culture as an iconic brand with many people in the South using the word "Coke" or "coke" to refer to any soda product or pop beverage, much the same way we use "Xerox" to refer to all photocopying. Looking through artifacts such as the Prospector and the yearbooks, there will be references to "coke," but the writer may be using the term in this generic fashion. Not convinced? Look at this photo from the 1949 Flowsheet. The caption tells us that the students are drinking "Coke," or Coca-Cola. However, closer inspection of the image of fraternity brothers at a so-called "tea party" reveals that they are actually drinking bottles of beer and not bottles of Coca-Cola.
Flowsheet, UTEP DigitalCommons
Prospector (Jan. 1921; Apr. 1922; May 12, 1932; Dec. 7, 1940; May 8, 1945; Oct. 14, 1966; Nov. 3, 1967; Sep. 22, 1967; May 9, 1969; Jan. 30, 1970; Oct. 22, 1974; Mar. 9, 1976)