Coleman Dairy is perhaps the third oldest continuously operating businesses in the state of Arkansas. The dairy, founded in 1862, is now headquartered at 6901 Interstate 30 in Little Rock. Only the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and Rose Law Firm are, arguably, older operations.
Coleman Dairy began with fresh milk deliveries by Eleithet B. Coleman, the first milkman in the city. In 1862 milk was distributed by ladeling the product from crocks into containers owned by local families. Coleman died in January 1877 after suffering a fatal kick from one of his horses. The business continued under his son Fred B. Coleman. In 1915 the business passed into the hands of Fred Coleman's son W. C. "Pop" Coleman. His wife Gladys was known in the city as "Mom." Mom and Pop were joined in the business by their son H. S. "Boots" Coleman.
By 1938 the dairy had seven employees and three milk trucks operating out of a two hundred acre, two hundred cow dairy farm located on Hayes Street (now University Avenue) between Fourche Creek and Coleman Creek. The company began pasteurizing milk in 1940.
In 1946 the milking operation moved to a new facility on site at 5801 Asher Avenue. As the new plant opened in 1947 Boots took over daily operations. In 1948 the Coleman Dairy merged in the C. S. Douglass Dairy for a combined total volume of milk production in excess of 2000 gallons per day. Robert Douglass, Jimmy Douglass, and Cliff Shaw all moved over to the Coleman Dairy from the Douglass Dairy. Also joining the business in 1953 was Boots' brother W. C. "Buddy" Coleman.
The Dairy began sponsoring television shows in the 1950s. In 1953 Boots Coleman and Cliff Shaw hosted the Southern Conference Roundup show, which became the Frank Broyles Show in 1957. In 1954 the dairy sponsored Gail Davis in the Annie Oakley Show. Louise Lueken of the "Miss Arkansas Review" television show became the public face of the dairy for thirty-seven years beginning in 1957.
The dairy joined the Quality Chek’d Dairy Products Association in 1960. By 1962 the dairy was producing 10,000 gallons each day. Several other dairies merged into the operation in the 1960s. Joining the company were Camden Ice Cream, OK Ice Cream, Dairyland, Dixon Dairy, Prickett Dairy, Morrilton Dairy, Cook Ice Cream and Midwest. By 1970 the dairy was producing more than 35,000 gallons on milk each day.
Boots Coleman died in 1971. Buddy Coleman's sons joined the dairy in the 1970s: Bob Coleman in 1973, Walt Coleman in 1974, and Cherb Coleman in 1976. The dairy witnessed a number of mergers in the 1970s: Prine Dairy, E & W Dairy, Sealtest Dairy, El Dorado Milk, Maquire Dairy, Crossett Milk, and Quachita Valley Dairy. By 1977 the dairy was producing 45,000 gallons of milk each day. Employment at the dairy stood at three hundred.
The Coleman sold the dairy to the Associated Milk Producers Incorporated, a local dairy farm cooperative, on January 1, 1995. Home delivery of milk ended that same year. The dairy merged with Turner Dairy of Covington, Tennessee, on January 1, 1998. The company is now owned by Steve Turner and Jim Turner of Turner Holdings LLC. The Coleman brand is still used to sell milk, and the Coleman family still helps operate the dairy. Turner Holdings sells milk in Arkansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Tennessee.
Turner Holdings merged in Little Rock's Gold Star Dairy in January 2000. In 2002 the old Gold Star dairy at 6901 Interstate 30 was expanded and became the new headquarters of the company. The Asher Avenue dairy closed in July 2003. The new plant produced more than 140,000 gallons of milk each day.
Turner Holdings was acquired by the Prairie Farms cooperative of Carlinville, Illinois, in March 2006. Today Coleman ships product to eight states in the American Southeast, the Bahamas, and elsewhere in the Caribbean.
- Gwen Moritz, "Oldest Arkansas Companies," Arkansas Business, September 24, 2007.