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Redux: Coke or Pepsi? Cocaine or Michael Jackson?

Updated on June 26, 2013
Cocaine may still be used by a physician in 2010 (see text below)(Photos on this page are in the public domain).
Cocaine may still be used by a physician in 2010 (see text below)(Photos on this page are in the public domain).


According to senior citizens that remember, Coca Cola® (and later Coke®) was billed in commercial ads of the Roaring Twenties and the Early Depression Era of the 20th Century as

"The Drink That Gives You A Lift"

In its initial 19th Century formula, the drink invented in Atlanta contained both extract of coca leaves (cocaine origin) and kola nuts (good for digestion). The concentration of coca declined amid public and government debate of the evils of cocaine, until it disappeared from the soft drink during 1929.

The carbonated beverage reportedly contained a small amount of cocaine. In addition, the soft drink contained caffeine, also a "lifting" agent. At the time, a sector of the medical practice in America habitually administered cocaine as a pain reliever, even to children having tonsillectomies [see Houser, Karl M, M.D.; Sudden Death Eleven Hours after Tonsillectomy Following Local Application Of Cocaine; Archives of Otolaryngology ; 1932;15(2):291-292. Submitted for publication, July 18, 1931.].

Cocaine since before the American Civil War was used in toothache drops, in a surgical local anesthetic as procaine (for tonsillectomy and such), as an agent to fight morphine addiction, and in a cocaine-laced wine, among other applications. Coca leaves have been chewed by certain indigenous groups in Peru, South America for probable centuries. Why not put it in Coca Cola®?

According to the US Drug Enforcement Agency:

"Today, cocaine is a Schedule II drug (reference) under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, meaning that it has high potential for abuse, but can be administered by a doctor for legitimate medical uses, such as local anesthesia for some eye, ear, and throat surgeries. "

Thus, doctors are still permitted to use cocaine.

"Cocaine Fiends" from the 1930s

Coke - A Competitor For Sarsaparilla at the Soda Fountain

The Coca Cola® Website and various universities around this nation report that the drink in question was developed, then first sampled in Atlanta, Georgia pharmacy on May 8, 1886. Pharmacies had soda fountains and lunch counters and after the advent of the automobile, they sold gasoline and provided the first carhops in the person of counter men at the soda fountains as well. I know this because a relative drove from Cambridge, Ohio to the Southwest in a Model A Ford with siblings in the late 1920s and told about all of this. As a note of interest, McDonalds® restaurants were first staffed only with men in the 1950s and 1960s, probably after the fashion of the tradition of the pharmacy soda fountain male "soda jerk."

The developer of the llift-furnishing drink was Pharmacist/Dr. John Stith Pemberton, who experimented with flavored syrups. He reportedly carried a jug of the soon-to-be-named Coca-Cola® syrup a few blocks away to Jacobs' Pharmacy. There, he passed out samples that were enjoyed.

Remember that sarsaparilla mixed with sassafras was a root beer flavored drink first enjoyed as a non-carbonated beverage, especially in dime novels and movies of the era. The Pemberton syrup drink was a competitor of the root beer drink, initially without the fizz of soda water, though it was added the first day of sampling. Jacob's Pharmacy immediately began selling small glasses of Pemberton's soft drink at 5¢ each. "Nickel Cokes" were still around after World War II in some places and replicas of the small glasses are sold in department stores. Antique editions are available occasionally on eBay®.


1915 contour prototype developed by Mr. Earl R. Dean. One of only 2 in the world, the 2nd is in the World of Coca-Cola(R) in Atlanta, Georgia.
1915 contour prototype developed by Mr. Earl R. Dean. One of only 2 in the world, the 2nd is in the World of Coca-Cola(R) in Atlanta, Georgia.


Pepsi Cola® is similar to the Pemberton beverage and contained originally the substances pepsin and kola that aided digestion. According to a small exhibit at the Historical Museum of Bern in Switzerland and the New Bern Museum, it was developed at a pharmacy in New Bern, North Carolina by Mr. Caleb Bradham. As such, it was given to the public 12 years after the Pemberton 1886 concoction, as "Brad's Drink" in 1898, taking it's current name in 1902 or 1903 (sources differ), about a year before of the St. Louis World's Fair.

The Birthplace of Pepsi Cola.

In 2010, New Bern is 300 years old and a year of celebrations that include Pepsi is underway until the new year. See NEWBERN300.

One major controversy and excitement occured for Pepsi® in 1984, when Michael Jackson's hair caught fire during the filming of a commerical for this soft drink.

Coke® had cocaine and Pepsi® had Michael Jackson. Both were controversial.


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    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      7 years ago from USA. Member of Asgardia, the first space nation, since October 2016

      I just found a beverage in a red can, white-lettered, called "Cocaine" that advertises a strength of 3 Red Bulls. Not too safe, I think.

    • thehands profile image

      Jorge Vamos 

      8 years ago

      Coke must have been something like the redbull of its day...except with maybe even a bit more "lift."

    • Enelle Lamb profile image

      Enelle Lamb 

      8 years ago from Canada's 'California'

      I knew about the coka-cola but didn't know about the pepsi! I have to say I was surprised to see that movie clip! I had no idea they filmed anything like that!

    • profile image

      Tammy Lochmann 

      8 years ago

      I really enjoyed reading your hub...I knew that they used to put cocaine in coca-cola it was interesting to read more about it...Here in Mississippi everyone calls a carbonated soft drink a coke...If one of my patients asks for a coke you have to ask them what kind of coke...Tammy

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      8 years ago from USA. Member of Asgardia, the first space nation, since October 2016

      So much controversy - right SweetiePie? Pretty interesting.

      Ethel - I don't know much about the coca weaine but will go read your hub. Thanks! - i'll link it in to this one.

    • ethel smith profile image

      Ethel Smith 

      8 years ago from Kingston-Upon-Hull

      Great stuff. I wrote about cocoa wine sometime ago. It is amazing to thibk of all this these days.

    • crazykhan profile image


      8 years ago from Lahore

      i must say fascinating facts of coke and pepsi

    • SweetiePie profile image


      8 years ago from Southern California, USA

      Fascinating hub, and I loved the last line!

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      8 years ago from USA. Member of Asgardia, the first space nation, since October 2016

      I was fortunate enough to have older relatives that lived through these events; also looked into cocaine regulation over the last couple of centuries - it's all fascinating.

    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 

      8 years ago from London, UK

      Thank you for such an interesting hub.

    • samboiam profile image


      8 years ago from Texas

      I knew some of the facts you shared but there was some that was news to me. Very interesting and informative, I voted it up.

    • drbj profile image

      drbj and sherry 

      8 years ago from south Florida

      Read every single word of this hub filled with fascinating facts about Coke and Pepsi. Thanks for the meticulous research. Also enamored of the old car in the video. Would be worth a fortune to a collector today.


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