The legend of Coca-Cola

VANGUARD Newspaper

The Coca-Cola Company started out as an insignificant one man business and over the last one hundred and ten years it has grown into one of the largest companies in the world. The first Chief Executive of the company was Dr. John Pemberton, the pharmacist from Atlanta who, In May, 1886, concocted the Coca Cola formula in a three legged brass kettle in his backyard.

John Pemberton, Inventor, Coca-Cola Drink

Until 1905, the soft drink, marketed as a tonic, contained extracts of cocaine as well as the caffeine-rich kola nut. John Pemberton was born in Knoxville, Georgia, and spent his childhood in Rome, Georgia. He graduated from Southern Botanico Medical College of Georgia in 1850. Pemberton briefly practiced as a traditional “steam doctor, who used steam baths, herbs, and other products to induce sweating, which they believed would restore the body to proper health. Pemberton later obtained a degree in pharmacy from a school in Philadelphia. In 1855, Pemberton moved to Columbus, Georgia, where he practiced primarily as a druggist for fourteen years, though he also performed other medical procedures.

Pemberton was a member of the first licensing agency for pharmacists in Georgia. In May 1862, Pemberton enlisted as a first lieutenant in the Confederate Army, and he organized Pemberton’s Calvary to guard the town. In Pemberton’s last battle he was shot and cut with a saber across the chest. He used morphine for his pain, and eventually became a morphine addict. For five years after the war, Pemberton worked as a partner with a local and wealthy physician.

During this time, Pemberton invested all of his money in researching and developing a line of proprietary items, which included perfumes and botanical medicines. During this time, there was a large demand for home remedies and tonics in the United States, especially in large cities.
In 1869, Pemberton moved to Atlanta, Georgia, to start a lucrative business—he developed, and successfully sold, a drink he called “French Wine Coca which was extremely popular in Atlanta.
Its fame spread throughout the Southeast, and the demand for the tasty beverage was high. In 1885 a reporter from the Atlanta Journal approached the creator of French Wine Coca and asked him for a detailed analysis of the new drink. Pemberton replied, “It is composed of an extract from the leaf of Peruvian Coca, the purest wine, and the Kola nut. It is the most excellent of all tonics, assisting digestion, imparting energy to the organs of respiration, and strengthening the muscular and nervous systems.” He explained that South American Indians considered the coca plant a sacred herb and praised its beneficial effects on the mind and body. With the aid of the coca plant, the Indians had performed “astonishing” feats, he said, “without fatigue.” Pemberton then admitted that his coca and kola beverage was based on Vin Mariani, a French formula perfected by Mariani and Company of Paris, which since 1863 had been the world’s only standard preparation of erythroxylon coca. Pemberton himself endorsed his “wine” as a cure for morphine addiction.

In 1885, with talk of Prohibition, Pemberton developed a drink without alcohol. Pemberton added the extract from cola nuts, a strong stimulant containing caffeine, along with the coca, and he replaced the wine with sugar syrup.

On May 18, 1886, Pemberton decided on a final formula for his new drink, and Frank Robinson, a partner and part owner of his company, came up with the name Coca-Cola and scripted Coca Cola” into the flowing letters which has become the famous logo and trademark of the brand today. On June 28, 1887, the Coca-Cola trademark patent was granted. Pemberton’s Pharmacy, in Atlanta, Georgia, was the first place to serve Coca-Cola from a soda fountain.

The cocaine was eventually removed from the drink in 1905. So when the new Coca-Cola debuted later that year – still possessing “the valuable tonic and nerve stimulant properties of the coca plant and cola nuts,” yet sweetened with sugar instead of wine – Pemberton advertised it not only as a “delicious, exhilarating, refreshing and invigorating” soda-fountain beverage but also as the ideal “temperance drink.” It is said coke was discovered when De Luise, a 19th century American soda jerk accidentally hit the soda water spigot, adding carbonated water to the syrup in the glass.

The result was a “happy accident”: the invention of Coca-Cola. And the Coca-Cola beverage, whose unit sales totaled a mere 3,200 servings in 1886 (“nine drinks per day” based on the twenty-five gallons of syrup sold to drugstores by Pemberton Chemical Co.), is today called the world’s most popular soft drink – accounting for billions of servings at restaurants all over the world.

The trademark Pemberton and his partners created more than one hundred years ago can claim wider recognition today than that of any other brand in the world. Such is the commercial legacy of a onetime Confederate lieutenant colonel who earned his medical degree at the age of nineteen. One of the most famous examples of a trade secret is the formula for Coca-Cola. The formula, also referred to by the code name “Merchandise 7X,” is known to only a few people within the company and kept in the vault of a bank in Atlanta, Georgia.

The individuals who know the secret formula have signed non-disclosure agreements, and it is rumored that they are not allowed to travel together. In the past, you could not buy Coca-Cola in India because Indian law required that trade-secret information be disclosed. In 1991, India changed its laws regarding trademarks, and Coca-Cola can now be sold in that country. Trade secrets are very different from patents, copyrights and trademarks.

While patents and copyrights require you to disclose your information in the application process (information that eventually becomes public), trade secrets require you to actively keep the information secret. Trade-secret protection can potentially last longer than that of patents (20 years) and copyrights (100 years).

On April 23, 1985, the trade secret “New Coke” formula was released. Today, products of the Coca Cola Company are consumed at the rate of more than one billion drinks per day. Asa Candler bought the business From John Pemberton in 1888.

In 1894, Coke was sold in bottles for the first time. During World War II, bottling plants were set up in Europe, Africa, and the Pacific islands. By the late 1890s, Coca-Cola was one of America’s most popular fountain drinks. Realizing that he needed financial backing to market this nonalcoholic version of French Wine Coca on a large scale, Pemberton formed a company for that purpose.

He put his son Charles in charge of manufacturing Coca-Cola, and after prohibition ended in 1887, he again produced French Wine Coca. He announced that he would retire from active practice, sell his drugstores in Atlanta and elsewhere in the state, and devote all his time to promoting his beverages.

Meanwhile, a group of businessmen responded to Pemberton’s appeal to finance the new Coca-Cola Company. He was to receive a royalty of five cents for each gallon of Coca-Cola sold. With Asa Griggs Candler, one of the businessmen, at the helm, the Coca-Cola Company increased syrup sales by over 4000% between 1890 and 1900.

Asa Candler had worked for Pemberton as early as 1872 and took over controlling shares of the company within a short time of Pemberton’s death. By 1891 he owned all of the Coca-Cola business. Charles Candler, Asa’s son relates that one of his father’s first missions was to change the original Pemberton formula in order “to improve the taste of the product, to ensure its uniformity and its stability.” According to Asa Candler’s son, Candler hired Pemberton’s former partner, Frank Robinson.

The two of them, “by adding essential ingredients and taking others out . . . perfected the formula,” Charles Candler said. Pemberton’s financial troubles, along with his morphine addiction, led him to sell, trade, and give away portions of his company to various individuals. It was Pemberton’s practice to organize a business as a co partnership and then convert it into a corporation.

In March 1888, after being in business for eight months as a copartner, he filed the petition for incorporation of the first Coca-Cola Company in the Fulton County Superior Court. Five months later, on August 16, 1888, he died at his home in Atlanta of stomach cancer, leaving behind many unfinished formulas.

Pemberton also developed the first state-run laboratory to conduct tests on soil and crop chemicals. The facility is currently run by the Georgia Department of Agriculture. On the day of Pemberton’s funeral, Atlanta druggists closed their stores and attended the services en masse as a tribute of respect. On that day, not one drop of Coca-Cola was dispensed in the entire city.

At sun up the following day, a special train carried his body to Columbus, where a large group of friends, relatives, and admirers laid him to rest. The Atlanta newspapers called him “the oldest druggist of Atlanta and one of her best known citizens.”


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