A Morning Walk in History

Rosa Krech Payne

Rosa Krech Payne with Oakland students - If you know any of these "kids", let us know

One of the benefits of the Internet is to be able to enjoy an early morning walk through history. This morning’s walk started in Oakland, NJ, and eventually covers the entire globe.

It starts with John Payne’s great-grandfather who left a legacy of glass plate negatives from the early 1900s. Now a resident of Oakland, the same town where his great-grandmother once taught school, Payne has published a gallery of photographs taken by his great-grandfather who lived in Wortendyke, NJ a.k.a Midland Park, and worked in Paterson.

Many of the photos are categorized under the title “People I Don’t Know”, and being a hundred years old they might continue to be a mystery where we project our own impressions and beliefs on to the still images of the people who once lived in these parts.

Browsing the Payne family, friends, and unknowns, led to a curiosity of life back at the turn of the century, and soon to a magazine that celebrated the life of country living – at least for those people who could afford a summer home or estate – something Oakland eventually became popular due to it being close to NYC.

oakland_11kThe early 1900s saw a new market opening up for “country living”, people looking for summer homes, gentleman farms, and a break from what must have been a very comfortable existence in the city. Real estate agents would market country estate in fancy magazines, and farms for sale would be advertised as a great opportunity to build a summer home.

In Oakland, one could buy a 12 room home with furnace heat, a poultry house, stable and garage, all for a mere $11,000. It featured 5 acres of land, and was a 5 minute walk to the station – great for that weekend commute.

ben_kentThe same publication “Country Life” advertising land in Oakland, and other opportunities around the nation in 1911, published details about a parcel available from Benjamin Kent in Paterson, NJ.  Kent, a Paterson druggist, is arguably the rightful owner of the Coca-Cola trademark – the most famous soft drink in the world. ( The formula was far from soft in those days)

Kent had started selling his Coca-Cola in 1884 in Paterson, years before ‘Coca-Cola’ was introduced in 1886 by the ‘official inventor’ Dr. John Pemberton from Atlanta, Georgia. Actually, when Coca-Cola received a charter to incorporate in 1892, no one noticed that a Coca-Cola had already been established in 1888 – by the Paterson druggist Benjamin Kent.

coca_cola_patersonIn a tragic case of poor legal advice, Kent used a 1888 date for the establishment of his Coca-Cola product rather than the earlier 1884 date when it was only being sold in Paterson. Pemberton, in Georgia, had applied for a trademark using an 1887 date, and the government relied only on the dates submitted in the original paperwork to award the now famous trademark of Coca-Cola.

In an effort to avoid future legal entanglements concerning the name Coca-Cola, Benjamin Kent of Paterson was bought out for $400.

And so we have traveled from an old school house in Oakland, to Paterson, NJ, into the tragic story of Benjamin Kent who almost became the ‘official’ world famous inventor of Coca-Cola – now familiar to billions of people all over the world.

The history walk started with John Payne’s great-grandfather, who eventually married an Oakland school teacher at the turn of the century, and so it ends there.

John Payne worked only a half a mile away building world famous locomotives in Paterson— and perhaps after a days work he wandered over to have a taste of what became a world famous Coca-Cola soft drink — invented in Kent’s Drugstore in Paterson, New Jersey.