The O-Zell Story
A history of the O-Zell Company from inception to today.
O-Zell Soda, the latest craze in delectable comestibles, should have first tickled the tongue over 100 years ago, a potation of piquant pleasure to make the Roaring Twenties truly roar. Alas, ‘twas not to be, and therein lies a tale to dampen the hanky of those with fragile dispositions.
Elias, Our Hero
Let us first introduce Walt Disney’s father Elias Disney, no dewdropper he.
A person of unparalleled moxie, Elias toiled in railroad machine shops, taming raw steel alongside Walter Chrysler, future horseless carriage magnate. In Florida, he operated the Halifax Hotel, where Daytona Beach excursionists would rest their weary bones after a seaside frolic. Able to saw a proper fiddle, Elias presented musical entertainments for general merriment and financial reward. His curriculum vitae boasted further of postal deliveryman, orange grove farmer, and newspaper route proprietor. A bindle punk, yet a gentleman most honorable (if a bit of a bluenose).
Foremost was Elias’ mastery of hammer and nail, the tools he wielded so admirably in the service of Chicago’s Columbian Exposition of 1893. The bee’s knees, according to all who attended, this World’s Fair debuted the rotating amusement wheel of Mr. George Washington Gale Ferris, Jr., just one of many whimsical delights at the temporary pleasure park. While in Chicago, Elias also constructed a church and several houses, including the home (designed by his wife Flora) in which sons Walt and Roy Disney were born (and most likely in which Walt was conceived, a subject inappropriate for civil discourse.)
In 1906, wishing to escape the perilous urban hubbub of his rapidly changing neighborhood, he moved the family to Missouri. There, after some years in the "Show Me" State, his Kansas City paper route had allowed him to tuck away a few semolians for a less prosperous spell... or perhaps to invest in a humanitarian cause...
Enter Ernest A. Scrogin.
As an attorney for the Anti-Saloon League and supporter of Prohibition, Scrogin had waged war upon the moral turpitude of giggle water. In 1911, he became president of The O-Zell Company, a venture established that same year to manufacture and sell an all-natural, fruit-based carbonated beverage, a virtuous alternative to jag juice.
Scrogin found an eager investor in the passionately devote Elias, who had likely seen him speak at his local house of worship, inveighing against the evils of alcohol, coffin varnish, liquid sin; surely, O-Zell would steer wayward souls towards righteous, thirst-quenching refreshment, hallelujah! Elias, a man of temperance himself, shared Scrogin’s vision for this bubbly new form of “soft” drink.
1912 - The Adventure Begins
In 1912, Elias and Flora took proceeds from his paper route and made the first of several investments in the company, purchasing 2,100 shares of stock (2,000 for Elias, 100 for Flora) at $1.00 per share... a lot of mazuma, but such was Elias’ faith in the enterprise.
Hopes were high that O-Zell, the “Oriental Fruit Beverage,” would soon take America by storm. As Scrogin wrote on July 16, 1913:
“My dear Mr. Disney...We have turned out our first batch of drink at the factory and find that we need a little readjustment and improvement. These alterations and additions will be made within the next week or 10 days, and we shall then be in fine shape for manufacturing the drink.”
Summer became Fall, which became Winter, and then Spring and Summer again, as the seasons are wont to do, and still O-Zell was not yet ready for public consumption. A less patient man might have cried “Phonus balonus!” and ankled; not Elias. Undeterred, he made additional loans and investments, including a purchase of 3,700 shares on September 20, 1915; 275 shares in his name and 50 shares in Walt’s name on October 13, 1916; and 3,000 shares on February 9, 1918. Shares were held Roy’s name as well.
In 1916, anxious to achieve something close to profitability, the struggling company developed a line of “Jellies, Jams and Preserves,” bringing product to market the following year.
But the dream of effervescent salvation still burned bright as the noonday sun; as Scrogin wrote to Disney on February 10, 1917, O-Zell would include roselle (hibiscus sabdariffa), farmed in Cuba, and “Berry” as its primary flavoring ingredients, while a second “Sunshine” brand would be an apple-flavored potable.
Despite these continued words of reassurance, Elias’ confidence had finally begun to waver, just as he was to take a managerial role at the company. Scrogin, ever the persuader, wrote to Elias on March 6, 1917:
“…I want you to make up your mind Disney once and for all about this thing. You are going to make an awful mistake if you don’t go along with your plan and you will soon be exceedingly regretful about it. I am telling you that as a friend.
I want you to come here, and I want you to come as quickly as you can. I am going to need you.”
Back To The Windy City
And so Elias returned to Chicago, bringing Flora and their youngest child Ruth along with him.
The adolescent Walt, who had stayed behind in Missouri, did rejoin the family later in the year and at his father’s urging, took a job on the O-Zell factory floor, washing jelly jars, pulping apples, and packing cartons. (Such labor might not have been glamorous, but his earnings at O-Zell may very well have seeded his future animation endeavors.) By the end of 1918, however, he dusted out to drive ambulances for the Red Cross in France.
Upon the dawn of a new decade, the state of affairs at The O-Zell Company was dire; by 1920, it would be known as the “No-Peer Packing Company” with Burke Vancil at the helm of the sinking ship.
And the rest of O-Zell/No-Peer Packing Company’s short existence is entombed beneath the sands of time, like the great pyramids of Egypt.
Was Scrogin nothing more than a low-down four-flusher, a fakeloo artist, a flim-flam man, working a long con? The courts did so believe, bustling him off to the Big House on embezzlement charges.
Elias was left with naught but a short stack of worthless parchment. And very few were those able to savor a cool, sparkling, refreshing, and invigorating bottle of O-Zell soda.
That is, until now.
Elias and Flora, Heroes In The End
While Elias did not achieve great success with fruit of the branch, he most certainly did with the fruit of his loins. For Elias and Flora did produce Walter Elias and Roy Oliver Disney, two persons who continue to shape the hearts and minds of the world for the better, a real swell pair of fellas.