The Civil War was coming to a close. The siege of Petersburg had been underway for almost three months. Atlanta had fallen eight days earlier. In the midst of these devastating events, Alexander Wilds Chambliss was born on Sept. 10, 1864, near Greenville, S.C.
A son of a Baptist minister and educator, Chambliss grew up on a farm, working the fields. After he achieved fame and fortune, he attributed his endurance and work ethic to this period of his life.
Prior to coming to Chattanooga, Chambliss had trained as a lawyer and worked as a newspaper editor. So when he arrived, a few months after turning 21, he began his law practice. In 1887, Chambliss helped found Provident Life and Accident Insurance Company. During this period, he became friends with Adolph Ochs. When Ochs went to New York City to purchase the failing New York Times, Chambliss went with him and assisted in the legal aspects of the acquisition.
In 1896, Chambliss began his political career. He ran successfully for the Senate. Five years later, the citizens of Chattanooga elected him mayor and re-elected him in 1903.
After his second term as mayor, Chambliss returned to private practice. During this period of his life, he defended Coca-Cola in a legal battle. The United States government sued Coca-Cola, claiming among other things that its drink product was an adulterated drink under the terms of the recently passed Food and Drug Act.
With his defense of Coca-Cola completed, he returned to public service in 1919 when he was elected to a four-year term as mayor. The citizenry re-elected him to office in 1923.
However, a few months into this term as mayor, Gov. Austin Peay selected Chambliss to fill a vacancy on the state Supreme Court. For the remaining 24 years of his life, he remained on that court, eventually becoming chief justice.
When Chambliss died in September 1947 at the age of 83, Chattanooga lost one of its most prominent citizens. Even 60 years later, his legacy to the community remains strong. It includes the law firm that bears his names, as well as a home for abused and neglected children that he supported with a donation of $30,000.
David Schmidt is an avid history buff. He and his family moved to Chattanooga several years ago. He has fallen in love with the community and its history. You can contact him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.
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