On this date in 1886 Dr. John Pemberton (pictured) brewed the first batch of Coca-Cola in a back yard in Atlanta, Georgia. Pemberton had been a colonel in the Confederate army, was wounded in the Civil War, became addicted to morphine, and henceforth began a quest to find a substitute for the opiate which he considered dangerous. The prototype Coca-Cola recipe was formulated over time at Pemberton’s Eagle Drug and Chemical House, a drugstore in Columbus, Georgia, originally as a coca wine. He was inspired by the formidable success of Vin Mariani, a European coca wine which was no more than a blend of Bordeaux wine and cocaine. In 1885, Pemberton registered his own French Wine Coca nerve tonic which he sold mostly to upper class intellectuals, afflicted with diseases believed to have been brought on by urbanization and Atlanta’s increasingly competitive business environment. In an 1885 interview with the Atlanta Journal, Pemberton said the drink would benefit “scientists, scholars, poets, divines, lawyers, physicians, and others devoted to extreme mental exertion.” Pemberton claimed astounding medicinal properties for his French Wine Coca, which he marketed as a patent medicine. The beverage was advertised as a cure for nerve trouble, dyspepsia, mental and physical exhaustion, gastric irritability, wasting diseases, constipation, headache, neurasthenia and impotence. It was also suggested as a cure for morphine addiction, which was increasingly common after the Civil War.
In 1886, when Atlanta and Fulton County passed prohibition legislation, Pemberton responded by developing Coca-Cola, essentially a nonalcoholic version of French Wine Coca, replacing the alcohol with caffeine from Kola nuts. The first sales were at Jacob’s Pharmacy in Atlanta, Georgia, on May 8, 1886. It was initially sold as a patent medicine for five cents a glass at soda fountains, which were popular in the United States at the time due to the belief that carbonated water was good for the health. Pemberton produced the Coca-Cola syrup which was mixed with carbonated water at the soda fountains. Pemberton claimed that, like coca wine, Coca-Cola cured many diseases, including morphine addiction, dyspepsia, neurasthenia, headache, and impotence. Pemberton ran the first advertisement for the beverage on May 29 of the same year in the Atlanta Journal.
When first launched, Coca-Cola’s two key ingredients were cocaine and caffeine. The cocaine was derived from the coca leaf and the caffeine from kola nut, leading to the name Coca-Cola (the “K” in Kola was replaced with a “C” for marketing purposes). Pemberton called for five ounces of coca leaf per gallon of syrup, a significant dose. In 1891, when Asa Candler took over the company, he said that his formula (altered extensively from Pemberton’s original) contained only a tenth of this amount. Coca-Cola once contained an estimated nine milligrams of cocaine per glass. In 1903, the cocaine was removed completely.
After 1904, instead of using fresh leaves, Coca-Cola started using “spent” leaves – the leftovers of the cocaine-extraction process with only trace levels of cocaine. Coca-Cola now uses a cocaine-free coca leaf extract prepared at a Stepan Company plant in Maywood, New Jersey. In the United States, the Stepan Company is the only manufacturing plant authorized by the Federal Government to import and process the coca plant, which it obtains mainly from Peru and, to a lesser extent, Bolivia. Besides producing the coca flavoring agent for Coca-Cola, the Stepan Company extracts cocaine from the coca leaves, which it sells to Mallinckrodt, a St. Louis, Missouri, pharmaceutical manufacturer that is the only company in the United States licensed to purify cocaine for medicinal use.
Kola nuts act as a flavoring and the source of caffeine in Coca-Cola. In Britain, for example, the ingredient label states “Flavourings (Including Caffeine).” Kola nuts contain about 2.0 to 3.5% caffeine, are bitter in flavor, and are commonly used in cola soft drinks. In 1911, the U.S. government initiated United States v. Forty Barrels and Twenty Kegs of Coca-Cola, hoping to force Coca-Cola to remove caffeine from its formula. The case was decided in favor of Coca-Cola. Subsequently, in 1912, the U.S. Pure Food and Drug Act was amended, adding caffeine to the list of “habit-forming” and “deleterious” substances which must be listed on a product’s label. Coca-Cola contains 34 mg of caffeine per 12 fluid ounces (9.8 mg per 100 ml).
The first bottling of Coca-Cola occurred in Vicksburg, Mississippi, at the Biedenharn Candy Company in 1891. The proprietor of the bottling works was Joseph A. Biedenharn. The original bottles were Biedenharn bottles, very different from the much later fluted design of 1915 now so familiar. It was then a few years later that two entrepreneurs from Chattanooga, Tennessee, Benjamin F. Thomas and Joseph B. Whitehead, proposed the idea of opening an exclusive Coca-Cola bottling factory and were so persuasive that Candler signed a contract giving them control of the procedure for only one dollar. Candler never collected his dollar, but in 1899, Chattanooga became the site of the first Coca-Cola bottling company. Candler remained content just selling his company’s syrup. The loosely termed contract proved to be problematic for The Coca-Cola Company for decades to come. Legal matters were not helped by the decision of the bottlers to subcontract to other companies, effectively becoming parent bottlers.
The longest running commercial Coca-Cola soda fountain anywhere was Atlanta’s Fleeman’s Pharmacy, which first opened its doors in 1914. Jack Fleeman took over the pharmacy from his father and ran it until 1995; closing it after 81 years. Fountain Coca-Cola could be made in two ways. The oldest method was simply to add syrup to a glass and then top it up with carbonated water. I don’t know whether soda fountains of this sort still exist, but there were one or two in North Carolina when I lived there in the early 70’s. The great advantage of this method was that customers could ask for extra syrup if they wished, and could also add extra flavorings such as cherry and vanilla (which later became special flavors produced by bottlers). The second method was to use a proprietary fountain which dispensed the syrup and soda water simultaneously – now the universal method for fountains.
On July 12, 1944, the one-billionth gallon of Coca-Cola syrup was manufactured by The Coca-Cola Company. The parent company still produces only concentrate, which it sells to licensed Coca-Cola bottlers throughout the world. The bottlers, who hold territorially exclusive contracts with the company, produce finished product in cans and bottles from the concentrate in combination with filtered water and sweeteners. The bottlers then sell, distribute and merchandise Coca-Cola to retail stores and vending machines. The Coca-Cola Company also sells concentrate for soda fountains to major restaurants and food service distributors.
The Coca-Cola logo was created by John Pemberton’s bookkeeper, Frank Mason Robinson, in 1885. Robinson came up with the name and chose the logo’s distinctive cursive script. The typeface used, known as Spencerian script, was developed in the mid-19th century and was the dominant form of formal handwriting in the United States during that period. Robinson also played a significant role in early Coca-Cola advertising. His promotional suggestions to Pemberton included giving away thousands of free drink coupons and plastering the city of Atlanta with publicity banners and streetcar signs.
The Coca-Cola bottle, called the “contour bottle” within the company, was created by bottle designer Earl R. Dean. In 1915, the Coca-Cola Company launched a competition among its bottle suppliers to create a new bottle for their beverage that would distinguish it from other beverage bottles, “a bottle which a person could recognize even if they felt it in the dark, and so shaped that, even if broken, a person could tell at a glance what it was.”
Chapman J. Root, president of the Root Glass Company of Terre Haute, Indiana, turned the project over to members of his supervisory staff, including company auditor T. Clyde Edwards, plant superintendent Alexander Samuelsson, and Earl R. Dean, bottle designer and supervisor of the bottle molding room. Root and his subordinates decided to base the bottle’s design on one of the soda’s two ingredients, the coca leaf or the kola nut, but were unaware of what either ingredient looked like. Dean and Edwards went to the Emeline Fairbanks Memorial Library and were unable to find any information about coca or kola. Instead, Dean was inspired by a picture of the gourd-shaped cocoa pod in the Encyclopædia Britannica. Dean made a rough sketch of the pod and returned to the plant to show Root. He explained to Root how he could transform the shape of the pod into a bottle. Root gave Dean his approval.
Faced with the upcoming scheduled maintenance of the mold-making machinery, over the next 24 hours Dean sketched out a concept drawing which was approved by Root the next morning. Dean then proceeded to create a bottle mold and produced a small number of bottles before the glass-molding machinery was turned off.
Chapman Root approved the prototype bottle and a design patent was issued on the bottle in November 1915. The prototype never made it to production since its middle diameter was larger than its base, making it unstable on conveyor belts. Dean resolved this issue by decreasing the bottle’s middle diameter. During the 1916 bottler’s convention, Dean’s contour bottle was chosen over other entries and was on the market the same year. By 1920, the contour bottle became the standard for the Coca-Cola Company. Today, the contour Coca-Cola bottle is one of the most recognized packages on the planet…”even in the dark!”
As a reward for his efforts, Dean was offered a choice between a $500 bonus or a lifetime job at the Root Glass Company. He chose the lifetime job and kept it until the Owens-Illinois Glass Company bought out the Root Glass Company in the mid-1930s. Dean went on to work in other Midwestern glass factories.
I well remember my first taste of Coca-Cola. It was in Aden in January 1958 when my family was on the way from England to Australia as new immigrants. We had been wandering around bazaar stalls in baking heat, so my father suggested we have a Coke. It was one of the most extraordinary experiences of my young life. Because I had never heard of it until that point, and because the writing on the bottle was mostly in Arabic script, I was convinced it was some exotic Arabian brew.
It was just marvelous, and I can still conjure up the exact taste image of that first sip. I know that the Coca-Cola company denies that they alter the recipe from country to country, but it seems to me that the Aden version was sweeter than other versions I have tasted. I’m willing to be proven wrong, however, given that one’s first taste of anything can be heightened by its newness.
The Coca-Cola company maintains an extensive file of recipes using Coke, mostly submitted by readers. There are several recipes for marinades and sauces for grilled or roasted meats, but most of the recipes are for desserts. I have not tried any of them, but by all means browse away to see if anything tickles your fancy:
I don’t drink sweetened carbonated beverages any more, but as a boy my favorite way to have a Coke was as a Coke float, which we called a “spider” in South Australia – a glass of Coke topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. All way too sweet for me nowadays, but then I would have one as often as I could.
Saludos John Pemberton!