Coca-Cola has become ingrained into American culture, and its logo is recognized all around the world. John Stith Pemberton was a pharmacist and chemist who originally created the formula as a medication in an attempt to help his drug problem. Yes, the rumors are true, Coca-Cola did initially contain traces of cocaine, but that is no longer the case. Sadly, Pemberton passed away before he was able to see his company turn into a tremendously successful global empire beloved by millions.
The beverage went through a lot of changes and was initially a wine. Pemberton changed the recipe in response to the prohibition, and Coca-Cola was born. An essential part of the company’s success is due to advertising strategies. From the spelling of the name to the bottles they are sold in, Coca-Cola takes marketing very seriously. Here is the history of Coca-Cola and how it transformed into what it is now. Plus, we added some interesting facts you may have never known about the brand or its products.
The Young Doctor
John Stith Pemberton was born in Knoxville, Georgia, on July 8th, 1831. Most of his childhood was spent in Rome, Georgia and his family lived there for nearly three decades. Pemberton attended the Reform Medical College of Georgia in Macon, where he studied medicine and pharmacy. Dr. Pemberton was just 19 years old when he earned his medical degree. His specialty was chemistry.
He had a license to practice Thomsanian (or botanic) philosophies. This field is focused on helping patients by using organic, herbal remedies. This niche of medicine came with strong speculations and wasn’t respected at the time. He originally started practicing medicine and surgery, but then Dr. Pemberton opened up his own pharmacy in Columbus.
In 1853, the same year he opened his wholesale-retail business, Dr. Pemberton married Anne Eliza Clifford Lewis, otherwise known as “Cliff,” a Wesleyan College student. In 1854, the couple had their only son, Charles Ney Pemberton. The famous Pemberton house is Columbus was a Victorian cottage. On September 28th, 1971, the house was added to the National Register of Historic Places because of its historical significance.
Pemberton’s new store focused on Materia Media, components used to create medical remedies. His company claimed, “We are direct importers manufacturing all the pharmaceutical and chemical preparations used in the arts and sciences.” In 1860, just a few years before the Civil War, Pemberton earned his graduate degree in pharmacy.
A Respected Physician
Pemberton’s business officially opened its doors, and the company had $35,000 worth of the best high tech equipment at the time. The company even designed some of the equipment themselves, and in 1869, it was called a “magnificent establishment” by an Atlanta Constitution reporter.
After the lab was relocated to Atlanta, the reporter referred to Pemberton’s business as “one of the most splendid Chemical Laboratories that there is in the country.” He was also dubbed “the most noted physician Atlanta ever had.” All of his accomplishments, success, and respect didn’t prevent the doctor from joining the Civil War when the time came. In May 1862, Pemberton joined the army of Confederacy.
When he first joined the army, Pemberton made lieutenant. He defended the city of Columbus as a founding member of the Third Georgia Cavalry Battalion, and as a result, he became a lieutenant colonel. On Easter in 1865, Union troops under General James Wilson’s command made it to Columbus, and Pemberton was in direct line of fire and nearly died.
Although he survived, the battle significantly impacted the rest of his life. It eventually leads to his greatest success and his subsequent morphine addiction. He only turned to the drugs after the war because of his severe injuries. But as it turns out, it ultimately led Pemberton to the invention of Coca-Cola.
Back to Work
After the army, Pemberton began his life-long struggle with substance abuse. The wounded soldier initially took morphine to relieve his pain, and he was almost immediately hooked. Sadly, he fell victim to the chemical as a coping mechanism for whatever mental illness and psychological ailments he was experiencing.
As soon as the smoke from the Civil War started to clear, America was focused on getting back to living. Pemberton was no exception. He got together with physician Austin Walker and expanded his lab. Originally, their idea was to create new products. They wanted to sell medical and photography supplies and even branched out into cosmetics. He developed the Sweet Southern Bouquet perfume, and it was a huge success.
Coca-Cola Started as a Morphine Substitute
The veteran formed the Pemberton Wilson, Taylor, and Company firm in 1869, and one year later, he moved to Atlanta. He solidified his reputation and sophisticated state-of-the-art lab, as a trustee of Atlanta Medical College (which is known as Emory University Medical School today).
Originally, Pemberton was trying to create a morphine substitute. The beverage he created was called Pemberton’s French Wine Coca and was available in stores by 1885. The drink contained coca leaves that were imported from South America, giving it a unique twist. It was sold as a nerve tonic, headache remedy, mental aid – and a morphine addiction cure. The beverage appeared to help a large variety of ailments and sold pretty well.
The physician later admitted to a reporter at Atlanta newspaper, that the drink was based off on Vin Mariani. This Italian French beverage was once endorsed by Pope Leo XIII. It also used stimulating cocoa beans as an ingredient. But Pemberton took a different approach to his drink and decided to add extracts from other tropical plans, including caffeine-containing kola nut from African trees.
He also added the Central American damiana shrub leaf, which was speculated to contain aphrodisiac components. As soon as rumors started swerving about the alcohol prohibition in 1886, Pemberton was worried that his drink would be banned. Even though the law came into play later that year, the prohibition in the city only lasted one year. By that point, the shift from Pemberton’s French Wine to Coca-Cola began.
Five Cents a Cup
From his Marietta Street home, the pharmacist began various experiments on the drink and even used an industrial-sized mixing and filter machine. It ran from the second story of the building down to the ground floor. He sent pharmacies in and around Atlanta samples of his new alcohol-free rendition of the beverage.
Pemberton put his nephews in charge of getting feedback and recording customer reactions, which ultimately led the physician to a key breakthrough in developing the final concoction. To even out the intense sweetness of the syrup, he added citric acid. By May 1886, the drink was sold at the Jacob Pharmacy and in syrup form. It cost 5 cents per portion, and it would be mixed with water on the spot for customers.
The Coca-Cola Company
For a long time, the concoction was sold exclusively at pharmacies as a syrup – mixed on the spot. Eight years later, Pemberton finally decided to bottle up the drink, cut out the middle man, and expand into a retail business. He formed the Pemberton Chemical Company to market it and made his son the head of production.
Unfortunately, Charles was struggling with a morphine addiction of his own and eventually died (but we’ll get to that later). It was actually Frank Robinson, Pemberton’s bookkeeper that came up with the billion-dollar name, Coca-Cola. Robinson also designed the legendary logo that is still used now, over a century later.
During its early years, the company would bring in just $50 in sales with a sunken cost of $70 in ingredients and supplies. Pemberton saw this as an extreme failure, but Robinson had a different perspective. He didn’t view the loss as the worst thing in the world since the company was just beginning to gain exposure.
Robinson managed to persuade his boss to invest a significant amount of their budget for marketing- through banners, streetcar placards, free drink coupons, and store awnings that said: “Drink Coca-Cola.” The beverage was quickly recognized in Atlanta, and Pemberton had a strong feeling that it would spread throughout the country. To this day, Coca-Cola spends more money on advertising and marketing than any soft drink producer.
Pemberton’s Last Days
Unfortunately, he died before he was able to see what he created. After he was diagnosed with stomach cancer, the physician started selling the company piece by piece and only owned a third of it by the end. By this point, Asa G Candler, an investor, and physician was one of the major owners, and Pemberton left his share to his son.
Pemberton spent the last days of his life in his lab, obsessively trying to find ways to improve the drink. Following his death on August 16th, 1888, fights began between investors like Candler and Charles Pemberton. By 1890, Candler won control over the company, when Charles Pemberton sold his share to him. More about that later.
As we know, Frank Robinson suggested the name Coca-Cola. It wasn’t so difficult to come up with considering the syrup contained coca leaf extract as well as caffeine from the kola nut. However, Robinson was known to think outside the box and believed that using two Cs in the name would look amazing and work better when it came to advertising.
That’s when he changed Coca-Kola to Coca-Cola. You can also credit Robinson for first scripting “Coca-Cola” as the famous logo all know today. Obviously, he was right. Robinson obviously had a good eye when it came to marketing because the Coca-Cola symbol has become one of the most recognized in the world. Advertising later became a huge part of the company.
In 1887, Asa Candler, another Atlanta pharmacist, purchased the Coca-Cola formula from Pemberton for $2,300. Unfortunately, he died just a few years later- before Coca-Cola was the most famous fountain drink in America. Apparently, he was responsible for the popularity but using aggressive marketing techniques to sell the product.
With Candler taking the lead, the company sales increased by an astonishing 4,000 percent between 1890 and 1900. The drink was marketed as a tonic and famously contained extracts of cocaine as well as caffeine-rich kola nut. Even though cocaine was legal until 1914, Chandler started taking cocaine out of the recipe in the early 1900s. However, the beverage may have had traces of cocaine in it until 1929- when scientists were able to effectively remove all the psychoactive elements in the coca-leaf extract.
Advertising is a significant factor in Coca-Cola’s successful sales. By the turn of the century, the drink was sold all across the United States as well as Canada. At the time, Coca-Cola was selling its syrup to independent bottling companies that were licensed to sell the drink. Even nowadays, the United States soft drink company is organized this way.
In 2018, Coca-Cola spent $5.8 billion on global advertising alone (18.3 percent of its revenue). That means that on a global scale, Coca-Cola spends more money on marketing than any other soft drink producer. Next in line is PepsiCo, which spends about $2 billion on advertising. Although that is also a massive amount of money, it’s less than half of what Coca-Cola spends.
Coca-Cola and its advertising agency, McCann-Erickson, ended its popular “Things Go Better with Coke” campaign in 1969. Instead, they wanted a campaign focused on the slogan “It’s the Real Thing.” It started off with a hit song, and the new campaign ultimately became the most successful and popular ads ever created.
Bill Backer, a creative director at Coca-Cola, was the brains behind the song, “I’d like to Buy the World a Coke.” He expressed to songwriters Roger Cook and Billy Davis, “I could see and hear a song that treated the whole world as if it were a person – a person the singer would like to help and get to know. I’m not sure how the lyrics should start, but I know the last line.” He then scribbled the words, “I’d like to buy the world and keep it company” on a napkin.
“I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke.”
“I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke” was sent to radio stations all throughout the country on February 12th, 1971. It totally flopped. The Coca-Cola bottlers specifically hate the ad, and most of them refused to buy airtime for it. The first few times the ad was played on the radio, audiences paid absolutely no attention; the public barely noticed it.
Backer really believed in the campaign. He managed to persuade McCann to convince the Coca-Cola executives that the ad was still had potential; it just needed a visual dimension. The company eventually came around and approved over $250,000 on filming. At the time, this was the largest amount of money ever spent on a television commercial.
A Commercial Success
In July 1971, the TV ad, “I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke,” premiered in the United States. The reactions were immediate, dramatic, and positive. The Coca-Cola Company and its bottlers received over 100,000 letters about the ad by November of that year. There was a high demand for the song, and people would even call up radio stations requesting deejays to play the commercial.
The song, as well as the commercial, left a lasting impression on the public. Advertising surveys were continuously classifying it as one of the best commercials of all time. The sheet music was still selling over three decades after the song was actually written. As a tribute to the successful campaign, the commercial resurfaced during the finale episode of” Mad Men” in 2015, 40 years after the commercial’s debut.
Coca-Cola Created Santa Claus
Okay, maybe they didn’t invent the legend of Santa Claus, but their advertising did help shape the Jolly character we know and love today. Back in the day, there were many different illustrations and descriptions of Santa, including a tall skinny man, an elf, and even a scary Santa. Everything changed in 1931 when the company hired Haden Sundblom to draw Santa for Christmas advertisements.
The illustrations portrayed Santa as a warm, happy character with human features, such as rosy cheeks and a white beard. It ultimately changed the world and shaped generations of society’s perception of Santa Claus. So much so that most people have no idea that Coca-Cola was behind the character. But did you ever wonder why he wears red? Coca-Cola color.
The Life and Death of New Coke
In response to declining sales, Coca-Cola launched the trade secret “New Coke” formula on April 23rd, 1985. The new recipe was considered an epic failure. Loyal fans of the company had negative and even harsh reactions to “New Coke.” The backlash was so bad that within three months, Coca-Cola went back to the familiar taste and the recipe that captured the world’s taste buds in the first place.
When the original formula returned, it came with the new branding of the Coca-Cola Classic. New Coke was still on the shelves, but no one really liked it. In 1992, the company attempted to rebrand it as Coke II, but that didn’t work either. It was eventually discontinued in 2002.
The Truth About Pemberton’s Addiction
As we know, Pemberton served in the confederate army for most of the Civil War. During an intense battle involving a sword fight on horseback with a Union cavalry, a saber shot and slashed Pemberton. His injuries were so severe, and he was lucky he didn’t die. However, he suffered from extreme physical pain
Since he was already a chemist and druggist, he had access to morphine. He initially took it to help him numb the pain. Unfortunately, it didn’t take long for him to become dependent on the drug. After easing his physical pain, Pemberton continued to use the drug to cope with PTSD and other mental and psychological issues he acquired during the war.
Pemberton Turned to Cocaine as a Substitute for Morphine
Like many other addicts, Pemberton wanted to recover and get clean. He knew his morphine problem was dangerous, so he began experimenting with opium-free medicines. After another doctor claimed that opium habits could be cured with coca (cocaine), Pemberton worked on his own concoction using coca leaves and kola nuts.
As we mentioned, this specific concoction was called Pemberton’s French Wine- coca leaves and red wine. It was during the prohibition when the physician was required to remove the alcoholic component of his formula, which ultimately led to Coca-Cola. What’s interesting is that during this time, coca was thought to help with substance abuse. Of course, we now know that cocaine is a powerful and addictive drug as well.
Selling the Company for Drug Money
When Pemberton began growing ill, he started to sell parts of his company. The physician desperately needed money to support his family, as well as his drug addiction, according to the book For God, Country, and Coca-Cola: The Definitive History of the Great American Soft Drink and the Company that Makes it, by Mark Pendergrast.
On their website, Coca-Cola maintains that Pemberton “never realized the potential of the beverage he created,” so he decided to sell the company in pieces to multiple different partners. He left a third of the company to his son Charles but unfortunately, he sold his share to support his own morphine addiction. He died just six years after his father did, and like his him, Charles never saw the immense empire that Coca-Cola became.
Pemberton hoped his product to be passed down in his family and wanted to give his son Charles some ownership of the company. The physician maintained that his son had ownership of the name, but other companies were allowed to use the formula. Chandler ultimately bought our Charles share, and she was happy to do so. Charles didn’t have the best reputation and turned out to be trouble.
In Pendergrast’s book, Charles was described as argumentative and prone to drinking. According to several reports, Charles was found dead in 1894 with opium next to him. Unfortunately, Pemberton’s wife got no benefit from the Company’s huge success. She lived the rest of her life with no family and in deep financial struggles.
The Bottle Mistake
When it came to the business side of things, Chandler was doing an incredible job increasing the success of the company, with clever business decisions and advertising techniques. But he made just one little mistake. At the turn of the century, Coca-Cola was sold in pharmacies as a fountain drink. Chandler was asked by bottlers if he would allow them to distribute the drink in glass containers.
For a one-dollar fee, Chandler agreed and let them package the drink. This decision turned out to be profitable for bottling companies across the country as well as rival companies. As more brands started to bottle their product, so many knock offs started showed up. Consumers had trouble telling them from the real brand.
Cocoa Bean Solution
Coca-Cola was aware that costumers couldn’t distinguish their product. To alleviate the problem, the company asked its bottling partners to design a bottle that is recognizable by touch. That way, if someone puts their hand into a cooler, they can feel which bottle is really a Cola-Cola brand. In 1916, a bottling company in Indiana designed a chunky glass bottle shaped like a cocoa bean.
The only problem was that they had no idea that Coca-Cola didn’t contain any actual cocoa. I mean, cocoa contained some traces of cocaine, but the company removed all traces of the drug in 1900. The bottle ended up becoming iconic, and Chandler left the company on a high note later that year. His next endeavor was Mayor of Atlanta.
With all the technological advancements in the world now, scientists can accurately document the serious health effects that soda can have on the body. I mean, think about it. If you pour it in your toilet bowl, it will remove all rust and clean it. It doesn’t really sound safe to put that into your body. To be fair, it was also marketed as medication. The point is, the public was completely unaware of the negative effects of the beverage.
In the late 1800s, Coke enthusiasts didn’t think twice before giving the sugary drink to their babies. It was believed that fa few drops of Coke would calm down fussy infants. We now know that a caffeinated sugar infused drink would have the opposite effect.
The Cans Were Made For Soldiers
The only thing more universal then Coca-Cola bottles are the aluminum pull-top tin cans. The idea to make the cans came out of necessity. Basically, the company needed a way to ship the product to armed forces overseas, and the cans were the perfect solution. The notion was practical, and it worked for a while. However, there was a slight issue during World War II.
During the conflict, materials need to make the cans were in low and limited supply. Unfortunately, the company was unable to produce them for the troops until the war ended. Because of how easily distributed and convenient the cans were, in 1960, Coca-Cola started selling them to civilian customers as well.
Clear Coke for the Russians
During World War II, Coca-Cola’s global expansion accelerated. Bottling plants were established to handle the demands of supplying the product to men overseas. It didn’t take long for the distribution to capture the attention of foreign consumers. George Zhuhav, a Russian general who had resisted Nazi forces, was introduced to Coke by General Dwight Eisenhower.
Zhukov loved the drink but was concerned that Stalinist-era Russia would have a problem with him drinking a distinctly American and capitalist beverage. He asked Coke if they would produce the drink for him in a plain bottle, and in the color of Vodka. The company agreed, and the Classic version didn’t make it to Russia until 1985.
Coca-Cola discovered that a good amount of their customers- about 12 percent, would drink the sugary, caffeinated beverage instead of coffee in the morning. The company quickly wanted to capitalize on it and decided to launch an aggressive marketing campaign, promoting itself as a morning beverage, and coffee substitute.
In 1988, “Coke in the Morning” was launched in several different test cities. The idea was that consuming a cold glass of Coke was easier to drink than a hot cup of water. However, the company was careful and made sure not to imply that Coke can replace orange juice. That’s because they owned Minute Maid and didn’t want the sales to drop. Very clever and very sneaky.
Coca-Cola came out with an expensive promotional campaign called “MagiCans” in 1990. Whenever someone bought a soda, there was a chance to get a special randomly distributed spring-loaded can that would spit out a rolled-up bill- from $1-$500. To keep it fair, the company needed to make sure that the buyers couldn’t distinguish the “real” Coke from the prize one.
The company created a concoction of water, chlorine, and ammonium sulfate. It had a terrible smell to discourage drinking. Unfortunately, some customers drank the potentially poisonous substance anyway and threatened to sue. I personally think they should have seen that coming. Putting a chlorine-based substance is a beverage bottle is sure to cause some kind of issue.
Having Your Rival’s Back
Back in 2006, Pepsi did the right thing when it came to Coca-Cola- their biggest competitor. Two Coca-Cola employees attempted to trade Pepsi Coke secrets and classified information about a product still in development for several payoffs ranging from $5000 to $75,000. The exchange could have given Pepsi a huge advantage over the market.
The Coca-Cola employees handed over some confidential documents and a liquid sample to a Pepsi executive… or so they thought. It was actually an FBI agent working undercover after Pepsi alerted Coca-Cola and the FBI. A spokesman for Pepsi later told CNN that the competition “must be fair and legal,” which is comforting to hear. Each of the fraudulent employees was sentenced to jail time.
Top Secret Recipe
For decades Coca-Cola has been known for fiercely guarding its secret formula. Apparently, the recipe is hidden in a corporate vault that only top executives can access. NPR’s This American Life announced in 2011 that they came across the secret recipe through an Atlanta historian named Charles Salter’s documents. He claimed to have seen it in a pile of papers belonging to John Pemberton.
Aside from coca fluid extract, the drink supposedly contains lemon oil, nutmeg oil, cinnamon oil. And caramel. In response to the media frenzy, Coke revealed that he might have found an early version of the concoction. However, they never admitted to checking NPR’s ingredients against their own. Maybe it’s not such a big secret after all.
In 1955. McDonald’s owner Ray Kroc asked Coca-Cola if they can provide fountain drinks for his chain of fast-food restaurants. Coca-Cola and the Golden Arches have combined their efforts and had an excellent relationship ever since. They partnered up on menu developments, and Coca-Cola even allows them to use their corporate facilities when globally expanding.
But the best benefit is the actual drink. Did you ever notice that McDonald’s Coke tastes the best? Well, it’s not your imagination; there is a reason behind it. Coca-Cola ships its syrup in stainless steel containers exclusively to McDonald’s, instead of the plastic bags they use for everything else. As a result, McDonald’s has the most delicious Coke you can get.
Coca-Cola is Part of Life
The Coca-Cola we know and love came in 1905. They took the fresh coca leaves out of production, and Cola-Cola integrated into day-to-day life for Americans by 1930. Today, the drink still contains coca leaves. However, the cocaine is already extracted before adding it to the soda.
At the end of the day, a determined scientist, physician, and entrepreneur created one of the most popular drinks known to man and one of the most successful consumer products if all time. At the turn of the 20th century, the prices increased impressively from a $50 worth. Sadly, the Coca-Cola legacy is no longer in the Pemberton family, and he didn’t live to see the unbelievable success it became.
First Olympic Sponsor
As we know, Coca-Cola took advertising very seriously and would miss an opportunity. The company was the first Olympic sponsor ever. The sponsorship began back in 1928, at the Summer Games taking place in Amsterdam. They definitely did something right because their advertising tactics made them one of the most famous companies out there.
Over 94% of people recognize Coca-Cola, and it’s the second most understood term in the world. The only term beating it is “Okay.” Even more impressive, the red and white logo is supposedly recognized by at least 90 percent of the human population. I guess spending so much money on marketing ads and commercials paid off.
It Will Take 11 Years to Try Them All
Although Coca-Cola started off as one simple product, throughout the years, the company used its success to expand and essentially monopolize the beverage industry. Many people know that they own Sprite and Minute Maid, but did you know they own Dasani water and Powerade? The company actually owns approximately 4000 different drinks across 500 brands.
That is quite the variety but, it’s not that surprising if you think about it. I mean, it’s a multi-billion-dollar corporation, and there is only so much Coca-Cola a person can drink. But to put this massive amount into perspective, if you drink one Coke product every day, it will take almost 11 years to try them all.
The Infamous Six Pack
As we know, Asa Chandler made a lot of smart decisions to boost Coca-Cola sales and is a big part of the company’s success. One of his genius innovations was the six-pack. You may think a beer company came up with the idea, but Coca-Cola was the first to introduce it in 1923. His intention was to create a carton to help costumers conveniently carry six bottles at a time.
The more bottles a customer can carry, the more he buys, right? Chandler was very smart with his marketing decisions and knew how to increase revenue for the company. Ever since many other companies adopted the concept and started to sell their beverages in packs of six.
Opera Singers Endorsements
When you think of Coca-Cola endorsers, plenty of famous celebrities come to mind. There was Britney Spears, Paula Abdul, Michael Jackson, Elton John, Selena Gomez, and Taylor Swift, just to name a few. But the first-ever endorsements came from Lillian Nordica, an opera star and Hilda Clark, an actress, and light opera singer.
Clark soon became a spokeswoman for Coca-Cola, and between from 1899 to 1903, she showed up in a lot of advertisements for the company. Her face appeared on everything- serving trays, posters, playing cards, and bookmarks. She set the stage for big-name celebrities from our generation to endorse the popular brand. It makes sense considering how much energy they put into their marketing strategies.
Source:Hadar Gerlitz| historybyday.com