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Why was Coca Cola invented ?

Updated on March 19, 2014

Anaesthetics in the 1800's

John Pemberton, the inventor of the Coca Cola syrup, had been severely wounded in April 1865, during the Battle of Columbus, Georgia. Like many wounded veterans in those days he became addicted to morphine. Being a brilliant chemist, he searched for a cure to his addiction, or at least a more modern substitute. Necessity is the mother of invention...

In order to understand the events that lead to the invention of the Coca Cola formula, it is imperative to understand the proper time frame.

In Europe, the British, French and Prussians had just come out of the bloody Crimean war against the Russian empire. The United States marked the end of the just as bloody civil war. War casualties all over the world numbered more than one and a half million men, but at least five times more were severely wounded or maimed for life.

At the time, the only decent anaesthetic was laudanum, an opium derivative, that slowly began to be replaced by morphine, another opiate, that came out after 1820. The pharmaceutical options of that time were very limited, and soon morphine was mixed with everything imaginable : water, tea, whiskey, wine, brandy, but also more esoteric substances such as hashish, cayenne pepper, ether, chloroform, or belladonna.

Morphine became immensely popular because ailments, pain, cholera and diarrhoea were simply everyday living conditions. Opiates were widely used as a soporific or relief for colds and pain. Furthermore, the substance was extremely cheap, being taxed as a medicine and not as an alcoholic beverage. It was actually less expensive than gin or wine !

But the enthusiastic use of these habit-forming drugs sparked an enormous and world wide drug addiction problem.

Vin Mariani

Around 1858, the prominent Italian neurologist Paolo Mantegazza visited South America, and witnessed the use of coca by the natives. Het tested it himself, and in 1859 he published a scientific paper with the flowery title "Sulle Virtù Igieniche e Medicinali della Coca, e sugli Alimenti Nervosi in Generale" (About the hygienic and medicinal virtues of coca, and about nervous nutrients in general). One of his observations was that the cocaine in coca leaves seemed to stimulate the cognitive processes.

Around 1863, Angelo Mariani, a French Corsican chemist, had read Mantegazza’s paper and became intrigued with coca and its financial potential. He concocted a beverage called Vin Tonique Mariani, which was made from Bordeaux wine and coca leaves. It was to be used as a substitute for the opiates.

Vin Mariani originally contained 6 mg of cocaine per fluid ounce of wine, but the wine that was exported contained 7.2 mg per ounce, in order to compete with the higher cocaine content of similar drinks in the United States.

Vin Mariani became extremely popular in Europe, with famous users such as Queen Victoria, Thomas Edison , Pope Leo XIII, and Pope Pius X. Pope Leo even awarded a Vatican gold medal to the wine, and publicly endorsed it !

Pemberton's French Wine Coca

In April 1865, Pemberton was wounded in the Battle of Columbus, Georgia, and like many wounded veterans he became addicted to morphine. Being a brilliant chemist, he searched for a cure to his addiction, or at least a more modern substitute.

In 1866, Pemberton experimented to find his own version of the popular Vin Mariani. Eventually he came up with an alcoholic beverage, mixed with coca, kola nut and damiana. He called it Pemberton's French Wine Coca, and it was patented by his Eagle Drug and Chemical Company.

The production of French Wine Coca continued until Pemberton's death in 1888. Indeed, in the year 1887, French Wine Coca sold 720 bottles a day, far outstripping the sales of the new Coca Cola...

Coca Cola

With the growing concern about drug addiction and alcoholism, in 1885 Atlanta enacted Temperance Legislation to curb the use of alcohol. Pemberton again began experimenting to produce a non-alcoholic alternative to his French Wine Coca, and he ended up with a syrup, made of cane sugar and extracts of coca leaves and cola nuts (caffeine). The syrup was then diluted with water, and cooled with ice cubes. Coca Cola was born !

This formula contained 8.46 mg of cocaine, but its effects were enhanced by the caffeine from the cola nut. The drink was originally advertised as a cure for morphine and opium addictions, among a wealth of other health benefits.

On May 8, 1886, the soft drink was first sold to the public at the soda fountain in Jacob's Pharmacy in Atlanta, for five cents a glass. About nine servings were sold each day, and the first year's sales added up to a grand total of about $50. On May 29, Pemberton ran the first advertisement for the beverage in the Atlanta Journal.

By 1888, three versions of Coca-Cola were on the market, sold by three different businesses : Asa Candler, Margaret Dozier, and Woolfolk Walker. Pemberton's son, Charley Pemberton, also began selling his own version of the product. John Pemberton declared that the name "Coca-Cola" belonged to Charley, but the other two manufacturers could continue to use his formula.

The difficult road for ownership of the Coca Cola formula

The dates of Pemberton's partnerships and companies, that led to the Current Coca Cola company, are hard to trace and very contradictory. Furthermore, in 1910, Candler had the earliest records of the company burned, obscuring its legal origins even more.

In the 1870's the J. S. Pemberton Medicine Company was formed, a partnership between John Pemberton and Ed Holland. It was to sell three main products: Pemberton's French Wine Cola,  his Indian Queen Hair Dye, and his Globe Flower Cough Syrup.

In 1884, Pemberton's company became a stock company and the name was changed to Pemberton Chemical Company. The new president was D. D. Doe, while Ed Holland became the new Vice-President. Pemberton stayed on as the superintendent.

Pemberton never realized the potential of the beverage he created. He gradually sold stock to various partners, such as Margaret Dozier, Woolfolk Walker and Asa Candler, who was the owner of a pharmacy and drugstore.

In 1887, the company was again changed to Pemberton Medicine Company, a partnership between Pemberton, J.C. Mayfield, A.O. Murphey, C.O. Mullahy and E.H. Bloodworth.

In July 1888, Candler sold his beverage under the names "Yum Yum" and "Koke", but both failed to catch on. He set out to establish a legal claim to Coca Cola, to force his two competitors out of the business. He purchased exclusive rights to the formula from Pemberton, Walker and Dozier, and incorporated the (first) Coca Cola Company. However, in 1914, the validity of the bill of sale was contested.

On May 1, 1889, Asa Candler published a full-page advertisement in The Atlanta Journal, proclaiming his business as "the sole proprietor of Coca-Cola". However, it took him until 1891 to obtain sole ownership, for a total of $2,300.

By 1892, Candler's marketing genius had boosted the sales of Coca-Cola syrup nearly tenfold ! With his brother, John S. Candler, John Pemberton's former partner Frank Robinson and two other associates, Candler incorporated the (second and current) Coca-Cola Company, with an initial capital of $100,000. The trademark "Coca-Cola" was registered in the US States Patent Office on January 31, 1893.

On 12 March 1894, Coca-Cola was sold in bottles for the first time !

*** Read my Hub about the Coca Cola saga ! ***


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    • ChuckHuckaby profile image

      ChuckHuckaby 6 years ago from USA

      In practice people tend to replace addictions... they are not so much cured of one as they move to another and think themselves cured!

    • slusterbubble profile image

      slusterbubble 6 years ago from Florida

      Thanks Chuck! Actually, I was surprised to find how many people became addicted to what was supposed to be a mere painkiller. Mrs. Abraham Lincoln was another famous victim. The irony of the Coke story is that in a way, it replaces one addiction (opiates) with another (cocaine)...

    • ChuckHuckaby profile image

      ChuckHuckaby 6 years ago from USA

      This is a very entertaining and informative history of Coke as we know it. The Southern theologian Robert Dabney in the post Civil War era had become addicted to laudanum use as a result of pain. It was a common problem. I didn't know Coke was created, in part, to help people overcome that addiction!