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First Sales of Coca-Cola: May 8, 1886

The first glass of Coca-Cola was served on May 8, 1886, in Atlanta, Georgia. Dr. John Stith Pemberton was a physician and pharmacist who made and sold medicines, photographic chemicals, and cosmetic products in his state-of-the-art laboratories. Among these were a popular perfume called Sweet Southern Bouquet, and a patent medicine known as French Wine Coca. It was advertised as a “nerve tonic, a mental aid, a headache remedy, and a cure for morphine addiction.” The product contained wine and coca leaves from South America and was served at pharmacy counters.

Old Coca-Cola Sign [public domain] via Library of Congress

Old Coca-Cola Sign [public domain] via Library of Congress

In 1886, Atlanta experimented with an early prohibition law. Since Pemberton’s drink was made with wine, he needed to change the formula. He experimented in his home laboratory to create a new drink that was sweetened with sugar instead of wine. By May 1886, his new formula was ready. Pemberton carried a jug of syrup down the street to Jacobs’ Pharmacy, where it was sold as a soda fountain drink for a nickel a glass. The beverage was later named “Coca Cola”–from its two “medicinal” ingredients: extract of coca leaves and kola nuts. Although the name was used in the marketplace starting in 1886, the Coca-Cola trademark was not registered in the U.S. Patent Office until January 31, 1893.

Ticket for free glass of Coca-Cola, believed to be the first coupon ever. <br/> By Coca-Cola [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Ticket for a free glass of Coca-Cola, believed to be the first coupon ever.
By Coca-Cola [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Dr. Pemberton never realized the potential of his invention. In failing health, he gradually sold portions of his business to various partners. In 1888, just before his death, he sold his remaining interest in Coca-Cola to Asa Griggs Candler, an Atlanta banker, real estate developer and manufacturer of patent medicines. Candler’s genius was in marketing and promotion. In order to get customers to try the product, he created the first coupon, which offered a complimentary glass of Coca-Cola at any fountain. Between 1894 and 1913 an estimated 8.5 million drinks free drinks had been served, and by 1895 Coca-Cola was being sold in every state.

An Original 1915 Contour Coca-Cola Prototype Bottle Designed by Earl R. Dean. By Gavinmacqueen [public domain] via Wikimedia Commons

An Original 1915 Contour Coca-Cola Prototype Bottle Designed by Earl R. Dean. By Gavinmacqueen [public domain] via Wikimedia Commons

Consumer demand increased even further in the summer of 1894 when the first Coca-Cola was bottled in Vicksburg, Mississippi. This ultimately led to another brilliant innovation–the unique and iconic bottle. Before refrigeration, soft drinks were kept in coolers of ice. Competitors used similar bottles, and the paper labels often fell off as they soaked in ice water, so consumers often couldn’t distinguish the real thing. So in 1915, the company asked bottling partners to design a new bottle.

In the design brief, they called for 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.The winning design was submitted by the Root Glass Company of Terre Haute, Indiana. Ironically, it was mistakenly based on the shape of a cocoa pod, which is NOT one of the ingredients of Coca-Cola.  The naturally occurring minerals in the sandstone of the local cliffs gave the glass bottle its distinctive green color.

If you want to find out more about the history of this iconic American beverage, view the ProQuest eLibrary Research Topic page on Coca Cola, or visit these websites available on SIRS WebSelect: