Coleman Dairy in Little Rock (Pulaski County) is the oldest continuously operating dairy by the same family west of the Mississippi River and was listed in 2001 by Family Business Magazine as the seventy-fifth-oldest family business in the United States. Five generations of Colemans have operated the business since its beginning in the early 1860s. Coleman Dairy became a division of Hiland Dairy in 2007.
Eleithet B. Coleman founded Coleman Dairy in 1862. Attempting to stay ahead of the Civil War, he brought his family to central Arkansas with a few dairy cows. At the time he started the business, dairymen hauled their raw milk in crocks and poured it into whatever containers were brought out to the delivery wagon by their customers. The family owned and operated a 200-acre dairy farm in the general location of what is now Coleman Creek, east of University Avenue and north of Fourche Creek.
Fred B. Coleman, Eleithet’s son, assumed charge of the business when Eleithet was killed at 7th and Scott streets in Little Rock from a kick in the head by one of his delivery horses. Fred Coleman later passed on the business to his son, Walter Carpenter Coleman. In 1938, Herbert Smith “Boots” Coleman, who had originally planned to become a football coach, joined the family business. Boots and his father decided that if the dairy was going to grow, they needed to start pasteurizing the milk. In 1939, they installed pasteurizing equipment and sold their first bottle of Coleman Pure Milk.
A new dairy plant was built in 1946 at 5801 Asher Avenue, which was part of the original dairy farm. Sales increased to the point where the herd could not produce enough milk. At the time, Coleman had about 200 milk cows. By 1948, Coleman sold all of its milk cows and began buying milk from dairy farmers in the central Arkansas area. When Coleman Dairy bought C. S. Douglas Dairy in 1948, the combined company sold over 2,000 gallons of milk daily.
In March 1951, Walter Carpenter “Buddy” Coleman Jr. joined his father and brother in the family business. In the mid-1950s, the Colemans decided to invest a large sum of money in advertising, and Coleman Dairy became a sponsor of the Annie Oakley Show on the relatively new medium of television, starring Arkansas native Gail Davis. The success of the show brought about wide public awareness and acceptance for Coleman products.
In 1960, the Quality Chekd Dairy Products Association selected Coleman Dairy as the Quality Chekd Dairy for Arkansas because of consistently high-quality products. The membership in the Quality Chekd Dairy Products Association gave Coleman a common trademark used by other independent dairies in the United States and Canada.
As business grew, Coleman Dairy established a policy of being community oriented—supporting and promoting things that are good for Arkansas and directing efforts toward projects that benefit Arkansans, especially youth activities. Coleman Dairy sponsors many youth sports teams. The company also sponsors the Miss Arkansas Pageant. Since 1971, the Coleman Dairy Talent Award has been given to one deserving young lady. The dairy made a major contribution to the building of the baseball field at Central High School in Little Rock, which is named in honor of Walter Carpenter “Buddy” Coleman Jr.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Coleman purchased OK Dairy and Ice Cream Company of Pine Bluff (Jefferson County), Dixon Dairy of Little Rock, and Midwest Dairy of Little Rock. Sales had increased to over 35,000 gallons of milk a day in 1970. In 1979, Coleman acquired the Ouachita Valley Dairy in Camden (Ouachita County). Coleman Dairy became part of Associated Milk Producers, Inc., (AMPI) on January 1, 1995. On January 1, 1998, Coleman Dairy became a division of Turner Holdings, LLC.
In June 2003, the Coleman plant was relocated to near Interstate 30 in Little Rock. Turner Holdings, LLC became part of Prairie Farms Dairy, Inc., of Carlinville, Illinois, in March 2006. Prairie Farms made Coleman a division of Hiland Dairy in 2007. By 2007, Coleman sales had increased to over 150,000 gallons of milk per day. Coleman products are sold in eight southern states: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Texas.
For additional information:
Reiter, Jeff. “Family Commitments.” Dairy Foods (September 1993): 45–46.
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