Coca Cola is undoubtedly the most popular non-alcoholic beverage all over the world, both for the drink and for the famous glass bottles (then replicated in plastic) with rounded shapes. Coca Cola, along with other few multinational companies, was one of the negative symbols of globalization during the late 80s and 90s, a huge colossus able to reach every latitude and sell its drink to (almost) anyone. The company today has over 130,000 employees and an enormous billed, but no lot of people know that its history began in a decidedly strange way.
The drink was invented by John Pemberton, a doctor and pharmacist originally from Georgia, who fought in the Confederate Army in the American Civil War. John Pemberton was born in Georgia on July 8, 1831. He went to the Reform Medical College of Georgia and in 1850 received his pharmaceutical license.
When the American Civil War broke out, Pemberton fought for the Georgia State Guard, which was part of the Confederate Army.
In April 1865, Pemberton took part in the battle of Columbus, considered by many to be the final battle of the war now coming to an end. During the fighting he was wounded in the chest by a slash, and was saved by the doctors of the camp. Following the wound, Pemberton used the morphine for a long time, of which, like many other veterans, he soon became dependent.
In search of a method to alleviate dependency, Pemberton began to look for a solution by creating a drink that would replace it.
So, he began experimenting with coca, the plant from which cocaine was eventually derived. He tried several combinations using different ingredients. Eventually, Pemberton mixed the coca extract with kola nuts, creating what would become the syrup for Coca-Cola. He filled a jug with the syrup and carried it down the street to the pharmacy to be sampled. People agreed the concoction was excellent.
In 1866, a year after the battle of Columbus, he began selling a drink called “Pemberton’s French Wine Coca”. The alcoholic drink, a cola wine, was produced in his pharmacy “Pemberton Aquila and Drug House”. The drink was advertised as a pain reliever, anti-depressant and aphrodisiac, and gained considerable popularity at the time, although it did not resolve the pharmacist’s addiction to morphine.
In 1886 the county of Atlanta introduced a law for residents that prevented them from producing, buying or selling alcohol, a first indication of what became, over 30 years later, the federal law on Prohibition.
Pemberton was then forced to change his drink, turning it into non-alcoholic.
So, Pemberton mixed the syrup with carbonated water and then worked with Willis E. Venable, a drugstore owner, to help him perfect and test the recipe.
Together they managed to create a first version of the famous Coke. Initially the aim was to make a real medicine, but when it hit the market at five cents a glass, it was sold purely as a soda fountain drink.
Pemberton and partner sensed the potential of the drink, and predicted that one day it would become popular nationally. Initially, Coca Cola had a warm reception, and Pemberton started to sell some allowances of the company to some Atlanta entrepreneurs. An advertising marketer named Frank Mason Robinson came up with the alliterative name which combined the two main ingredients for the product. Thus, the Coca-Cola Company was founded.
However, shortly after inventing Coca Cola, Pemberton began to deteriorate health, taking increasingly massive doses of morphine.
Sadly, because his addiction was expensive, he found himself nearly bankrupt. In order to provide for his family and to fuel his morphine addiction Pemberton began selling the rights to his formula and pieces of his company. The inventor spent all his savings, very large numbers, to continually supply them and he died in 1888 of stomach cancer, terminally ill and without a penny.
John Pemberton however managed to leave some allowances, which today would be worth Billions of Dollars, to his son Charles. The man, however, was decidedly not interested in life as an entrepreneur, and quickly sold his own percentages of the company. Charles Pemberton died in 1894, only six years after his father, also dependent on substancea.
According to Mark Pendergrast, who wrote the book “For God, Country, and Coca-Cola: The Definitive History of the Great American Soft Drink and the Company that Makes It”, Charley Pemberton suffered from substance abuse as well. He was prone to alcohol and allegedly was an avid opium user. No Pemberton ever witnessed the commercial success of Coke!
The name “Coca Cola” was decided by Frank Mason Robinson, a member of Pemberton, but it was Asa Griggs Candler, an entrepreneur from Atlanta, who bought the formula and the company for $ 2,300, becoming the richest beverage producer in the world.