An enterprising young man of 22 named William Clark Bradley moved to Columbus, Georgia, in 1885, to work as a clerk for Bussey-Goldsmith, a cotton factoring firm. Two years later he married Sarah M. Hall, daughter of the famous Connecticut ship builder, Henry T. Hall. Shortly after, he and his brother-in-law Samuel A. Carter purchased the cotton factoring business, changing the name to Carter and Bradley.
Immediately after buying the business, Bradley expanded by adding a wholesale grocery department and began to manufacture a high-grade fertilizer for the farmers who grew cotton.
In 1888, Bradley and G. Gunby Jordan founded the Third National Bank and the Columbus Savings Bank. In 1930, these banks merged to form Columbus Bank and Trust Company (CB&T). Today, CB&T is the lead bank of Synovus, a multi-billion-dollar financial services holding company based in Columbus, Georgia. Synovus provides commercial and retail banking services, as well as investment services, to customers in Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina, Florida and Tennessee. From CB&T also grew TSYS, a market leader providing electronic payment services to financial institutions and companies around the globe. TSYS spun off from Synovus in 2008 and offers a broad range of innovative issuing and acquiring payment technologies, including consumer/finance, credit, debit, healthcare, loyalty, prepaid, chip and mobile payments.
In 1895, Bradley bought his brother-in-law’s share of the Carter and Bradley business, and changed the name of the company to the W.C. Bradley Co.
Over the next five years, Bradley bought Eagle & Phenix Mills and founded the Columbus Manufacturing Company, two of the largest textile mills in the South. He also built a mammoth cotton warehouse, cited in the Columbus Enquirer-Sun (July 13, 1899) as the largest in the South. This warehouse, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, today houses the corporate offices of the W.C. Bradley Co., the W.C. Bradley Co. Museum, and the D.A. Turner Memorial Chapel. The chapel was a gift from the employees to the shareholders, given in grateful appreciation during the company’s centennial celebration in 1985.
In the late 1800s, Bradley also became General Manager of the Merchant and Planters Steamboat Line. He shipped groceries and fertilizer down the Chattahoochee River to plantations, all the way to Florida, and returned back to his warehouse and mills loaded with cotton, as well as providing traveling accommodations for passengers traveling to and from the plantations. W.C. Bradley was the dominant figure during the last 25 years of the Chattahoochee River’s steamboat history. In 1923, Bradley donated the entire steamboat line, as well as the operating capital, to the Columbus Chamber of Commerce.
In 1917, Bradley purchased five plantations 45 miles south of Columbus along the Chattahoochee River. They formed the base of the company’s Farms division, one of the largest farm operations in the state of Georgia through 1995. Today much of this property is leased for agriculture and timber management.
Also in 1917, Bradley’s only daughter Elizabeth, married D.A. Turner. D.A. Turner immediately began learning to manage the company’s diverse operations.
In 1919, Bradley and Ernest Woodruff organized an investment syndicate and purchased the Coca-Cola Company for $25 million. Bradley became Chairman of the Board and remained active on the Board for 27 years until 1946, just one year before his death. His son-in-law, D.A. Turner, joined the Board in 1923. D.A. Turner retired from the Coca-Cola Board in 1980, and was replaced on the Board by his son, William B. Turner.
At the end of World War I, during the sugar crisis, Coca-Cola almost went broke. The investment syndicate was unable to borrow the money to save the company. Bradley went to New York and borrowed $4 million in his own name to help save Coca-Cola.
During the early 1920s, Bradley continued to diversify his holdings. In 1920, Bradley acquired the Hamburger Cotton Mills and renamed them the Bradley Manufacturing Company.
In 1925, the W.C. Bradley Co. acquired control of the Columbus Iron Works. The Iron Works, dating back to 1849, manufactured cannons, cannon balls and gunboats during the Civil War, and in 1872, the world’s first commercial ice machines. When Bradley took over ownership, they began manufacturing circulating heaters and stoves as well as horse-drawn farm implements.
The textile mills were sold during the 1940s. When W.C. Bradley died on July 26, 1947, D.A. Turner became Chairman of the Board. Four years before his death, Bradley and Turner formed the W.C. and Sarah H. Bradley Foundation. Since that time, the Foundation has contributed over $250 million to charitable, educational, religious and cultural programs, and for community improvements. The W.C. Bradley Co. has always made a strong commitment to its employees and to the community to provide a better quality of life.
As the agricultural belt moved west, and electricity outdated the wood and coal burning stoves and heaters, the Iron Works manufactured its first cast iron Char-Broil barbecue grill in 1949. During the 1960s they added gas grills. In 1973, the Manufacturing division moved from the Iron Works to a new, modern plant in Bradley Industrial Park and became known as W.C. Bradley Enterprises. In 1977, it became known as Char-Broil – now a leading marketer of infrared, gas, charcoal, portable, and electric outdoor barbecue grills. Today the original Iron Works facility is the Columbus, Georgia Convention and Trade Center, one of the most beautiful and unique convention facilities in the country.
D.A. Turner died on August 11, 1982. An excerpt from a resolution from Columbus Bank and Trust Company honoring his life stated:
“Fundamental to all his admirable qualities, Mr. Turner had a deep abiding love and appreciation for people. Because of his example and leadership, an atmosphere of patience, kindness and unselfishness developed that allowed others to grow.
“Mr. Turner exemplified integrity and stability. He never departed from a basic set of values and priorities that established him as a pillar of strength in a world of constant uncertainty and change.
“Though he received countless honors and enjoyed prosperity in every respect, he remained a simple man with humility who attributed his successes to his Maker and to those around him.”
D.A. Turner’s son, William B. Turner, assumed the title of Chairman after his father’s death, although he had been actively managing the company since he became Vice Chairman and Chief Executive Officer in 1973. D.A. Turner’s son-in-law, Lovick P. Corn, assumed the duties of Vice Chairman of the W.C. Bradley Co. after his father-in-law’s death.
On August 4, 1987, William B. Turner stepped down as Chairman and turned the management of the company over to the fourth generation of the founder’s family. Stephen Turner Butler was elected Chairman and Chief Executive Officer and William B. Turner, Jr. was elected President of the W.C. Bradley Co. During their time at the helm of the
company several major acquisitions were made that form the basis of the present day Lamplight and Zebco Brands divisions. In 2008, William B. Turner, Jr. retired. On November 3, 2008, Marc Oliviť, a native of Belgium, became the company’s new President and Chief Executive Officer, with Stephen Turner Butler remaining as Chairman of the Board.
Today, the W.C. Bradley Co. continues to be a financially sound and growing company. It is comprised of a family of companies focused on home and leisure products and services. The W.C. Bradley Co. is dedicated to its team members, to the community, and to establishing a reputation for quality and value.
W.C. Bradley Co. – strong traditions, with a proud past and a promising future.