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TDIH: History and Pro/Con of Coca-Cola

Drink Coca-Cola 5 cents

Drink Coca-Cola 5 cents (1889 print)
Credit: Library of Congress [No known restrictions on publication.]

The date was March 29, 1886. Pharmacist John Pemberton was hard at work in his laboratory, brewing a concoction intended to cure various ills including headaches, indigestion, and hangovers. Instead, Pemberton created something that would go on to become one of the most popular soft drinks of all time—Coca-Cola.

Here are five facts you may not have known about Coca-Cola:

  1. The original Coca-Cola formula was made with coca leaf, which is used to make cocaine, and kola nuts, which contained caffeine. In the early 20th century, the coca leaves were removed from the formula, but the caffeine remained.
  2. In May 1886, the first glass of Coca-Cola was sold for five cents at Jacob’s Pharmacy in Atlanta.  It was not immediately popular, generating only $50 in sales through the end of the year.
  3. Pemberton sold his formula to Ada Candler, an Atlanta businessman. Candler promoted Coca-Cola as a “delicious and refreshing” soft drink and its popularity spread.
  4. In 1899, three Tennessee entrepreneurs purchased exclusive rights to bottle and sell Coca-Cola.  Their price? Just $1. They developed the distinctive contoured bottle that is still used today.
  5. “The Pause That Refreshes” was one of the first advertising slogans used to market Coca-Cola. It appeared in an advertisement in the Saturday Evening Post in 1929. Over time, Coca-Cola’s advertising attempted to connect the brand with fun and good times, whether it was singing “I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke” or inviting friends to “Share a Coke.”
Woman Drinking Coca Cola

Credit: Pixabay [Public Domain]

The Pro/Con of Coca-Cola

Today Coca-Cola is one of the most globally recognized brands, but that does not translate into universally loved. Health organizations have criticized Coca-Cola for containing too much sugar and contributing to rising rates of diabetes and obesity. This has led some cities and states to consider levying a “junk food tax” on sales of Coca-Cola and other soft drinks. Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg took it a step further and proposed banning the sales of “super-size” soft drinks at fast food restaurants.

SIRS Issues Researcher has an entire Leading Issue dedicated to Food and Nutrition that can be used to bring the invention of Coca-Cola into your classroom today. Students can read opposing viewpoints and Essential Questions on various issues, including Junk Food Taxes, School Lunches, and Obesity. For historical background, they can also access timelines with key events related to Food and Nutrition.

Don’t have SIRS Issues Researcher? Free trials are available.

 

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: