Learning to Give, Philanthropy education resources that teach giving and civic engagement

Candler, Asa Griggs

By Anna Tyszkiewicz

Graduate Student, Grand Valley State University

Biographical Highlights

When people hear the name Asa Griggs Candler, they think of a man who was the founder of the Cola-Cola company, what they do not realize is that he was much more than that. He "saw his personal wealth as a divine trust to be used to the benefit of humanity" (Kemp 2002). This belief led him to become active in various projects in the South, including establishing Wesley Memorial Hospital.

Historic Roots

Asa Griggs Candler was born on December 30, 1851, in Georgia and was the eighth child of Samuel and Martha Candler. "His father was a well-establisher merchant and property owner… but the war with all of its destruction gave the Candler children a background of poverty that would leave an indelible impression on them…" (Graham 1992, 34). Asa's formal education began shortly before his fifth birthday and ended when he was ten years old (Ibid., 36). Candler could have chosen to attend Emory College for a year (as a sub-freshman), yet he chose to let his brother, Warren, attend in his place because "Warren's choice of career was a noble one (Ministry)" (Ibid., 38).

Knowing that he had an interest in the medical field (but did not have the money to attend medical school) Candler decided to pursue a career as a druggist. This introduced him to the medical field, but required no formal education. Asa became an apprentice to Doctors Best and Kirkpatrick and acquired knowledge as he did varied tasks for the two (Ibid., 39). His earnings as an apprentice were meager, so Asa decided to move to Atlanta. With very little money and no job Candler went from drug store to drug store in Atlanta asking for a job. He was hired by George Jefferson Howard, the father of his future wife, Lucy Elizabeth.

Still, Asa was not content. He had large ambitions and was not comfortable working for mere wages. At twenty-five years old he formed a partnership with Marcellus Hallman, under the firm name Hallman and Candler. Asa's plunge into entrepreneurship was only partly brought by desire to be his own boss. He and George Howard had a falling out over Howard's fifteen year old daughter, Lucy Elizabeth. To discourage the budding romance, Howard sent Lucy and her sister, Alice, off to Salem College. (Ibid., 46)

Now under his own direction, Candler began manufacturing his own "blood balm" and perfume at his drugstore. The store was such a success that Asa bought his partner's share. The profit margins at the store were continually increasing and the business seemed stable. He would then make the decision that would affect the rest of his life and establish a behemoth company to be known across the world a century later. He decided to "sell his entire stock of drugs, paints, oils, glass, and fancy articles, amounting in value to approximately fifty thousand dollars…to concentrate his efforts in manufacturing and marketing of the refreshing, stimulating drink" (Ibid., 53). This drink later became known as Coca-Cola. The business was a success, and made Asa Candler one of the richest men of his time.

Once the business was well-established, Asa spent more time and money supporting philanthropic works. He contributed a large amount of money to organizations and causes within the Atlanta, Georgia, area; this greatly increased economic development in his city. One of the lasting monuments that Asa made in his community was to provide funds to build a new 275-bed building for the Wesley Memorial Hospital, now called Emory University Hospital (Emory Healthcare 2003). Today, the hospital is considered one of the ten best hospitals in America.

Most of Candler's time was devoted to his family, charities, the Methodist church, and real estate developments. Unfortunately, he struggled through the last ten years of his life, mourning over his deceased wife and fighting many court battles dealing with property rights. Asa Candler passed away on March 12, 1929, at the age of seventy-eight years old.


Asa Candler was a "prime example of Henry Grady's 'New Southerner,' which Grady preached as the doctrine of the self-made man and industrial wealth as means of lifting the South out of its difficulties" (Ibid., 95). Asa helped the South by contributing funds to education, the Methodist church and real estate development. He was a devoted Methodist and believed in institutional education. "Asa believed that education without a strong Christian influence would lead to a population of an educated elite with no moral foundation. A person unable to distinguish between right and wrong had as little value to their community as those who could neither read nor write" (Ibid.).

Ties to the Philanthropic Sector

The concept that a person's wealth should benefit the community was a value by which Candler lived. In fact, he "was opposed by those who did not share his point of view" (Kemp 2002). He wanted everyone to contribute what they could. When he contributed funds for Wesley Memorial Hospital, he challenged others to do the same. "Asa pledged $12,500 for the hospital as a matching gift, if other Atlantans would raise the same amount" (Graham 1992, 99). Though rare during Candler's time, this type of challenge fundraising is commonly used in the nonprofit sector today.

Key Related Ideas

Asa "saw his personal wealth as a divine trust to be used to the benefit of humanity" (Kemp 2002). This idea engages people to give back to the community. This allows for programs, and institutions to be developed that may not have been developed otherwise. This idea is similar to the message presented by Andrew Carnegie in his Gospel of Wealth, that the wealthy have an obligation to give away their wealth during their lifetime, in order to benefit all of society.

Important People Related to the Topic

Warren Akin Candler was Asa's closest brother. They shared many experiences together, including the births of their first children only a few months apart from one another. Asa often confided in Warren and the two undertook many philanthropic ventures together including Wesley Memorial Hospital.

Related Nonprofit Organizations

The Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation is a nonprofit with a mission to send children, the leaders of tomorrow, to college to get an education. Characteristics of students awarded scholarships include: leadership in school and community, academic achievement, "motivation to serve and succeed," and character. Asa Candler, the founder of Coca-Cola, never attended college; however, he thought education should play an important role in everyone's lives.

Emory University Hospital, previously Wesley Memorial Hospital, was one of Asa Candler's greatest contributions to Atlanta. Wesley, originally established in 1904, fulfilled such a need in the city that it outgrew its fifty-bed facility. In November 1922, the hospital moved to its new facility (with 275 beds), a gift of Candler's. It became Emory University Hospital in the 1930s and is currently considered one of the best hospitals in America, particularly in cardiology (Emory Healthcare 2003).

Related Web Sites

The Coca-Cola Company Web site, at http://www.coca-cola.com/, contains a company history, examples and information on its citizenship (service and philanthropy) programs, and links to its local company Web sites across the world

The Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation Web site provides information on how to apply for the scholarship program (online also), qualifications of recipients, the foundation's mission statement, and more (at http://www2.coca-cola.com/citizenship/education_scholarsfoundation.html).

The Coca-Cola Youth Partnership Web site provides information on company-sponsored programs in the areas of academic achievement, the arts, and athletics. This includes youth activities and scholarship information (at

Emory University Hospital on the Emory Healthcare Web site provides information on the hospital's history, mission, accreditations and awards (at http://www.emoryhealthcare.org/departments/EUH/about_us/about_us.html).

Bibliography and Internet Sources

Cheatham, Mike. Your Friendly Neighbor: The Story of Georgia's Coca-Cola Bottling Families. Macon, Georgia: Mercer University Press, 1999. ISBN: 086554686X.

Coca-Cola Company. Homepage. [cited 14 January 2002]. Available from http://www.coca-cola.com.

The Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation. [cited 14 January 2002]. Available from http://www.coca-colascholars.org/.

Coca-Cola Youth Partnership. [cited 14 January 2003]. Available from http://www.youthdevelopment.coca-cola.com/home.html.

Emory Healthcare. Emory University Hospital. [updated 10 January 2003; cited 14 January 2003]. Available from http://www.emoryhealthcare.org/departments/EUH/about_us/

Graham, Elizabeth Candler, and Ralph Roberts. The Real Ones - Four Generation of the First Family of Coca-Cola. Fort Lee, New Jersey: Barricade Books, 1992. ISBN: 0942637623.

Kemp, Kathryn W. God's Capitalist: Asa Candler of Coca-Cola. Macon, Georgia: Mercer University Press, 2002. ISBN: 0865547823.