Coca-Cola is not only an iconic American beverage; it also has a long history of service at UTEP. Coca-Cola has been a staple at many of UTEP’s picnics, bean feeds, and celebrations. Additionally, Coca-Cola has been served via coke machines in the University’s cafeterias, student unions, snack bars, and in several buildings and dorm halls on campus for more than 70 years. UTEP Miners can be seen sipping, or on those hot desert days, gulping down Coca-Cola products nearly everywhere on campus—walking the grounds, sitting in classrooms, visiting with friends at Leech Grove, studying in the library, cheering on the athletes in the Sun Bowl stadium or Don Haskins Center, and while enjoying a meal at the Union. At UTEP, Coca-Cola is not only a drink; Coca-Cola is a way of life.
In the long history of UTEP, Coca-Cola has 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. Coca-Cola was an essential part of the countless 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 Coca-Cola. During the annual tradition of whitewashing the Miner “M” the students were ready to wash down their beans and coffee with an ice-cold Coca-Cola. After lively Sadie-Hawkins Day events, the single ladies and their captured husbands would cool-down and seal the deal with a refreshing Coca-Cola 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 from five cents to fifteen cents. 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 the vending machines in both Kelly and Holliday Halls 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 as 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.
[Sources: The Prospector, 7 December 1940, 8 May 1945, 14 October 1966, 3 November 1967, 22 September 1967, 9 May 1969, 30 January 1970, and 22 October 1974.]
Ashley Swarthout was a student in the Masters of Arts in Teaching English program at UTEP. She graduated in May 2013 and is now teaches dual credit at Chapin High School.