So how do we get to Coca-Cola? Despite the surrender of General Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia on April 9, 1865, the fighting in the Civil War continued.
A week later, Union troops, unaware of the surrender, marched toward Columbus, Georgia, to destroy the city. The Confederate defenders, positioned across the Chattahoochee River, blocked the Union troops from attacking by forcing them to cross one of two bridges.
During the Union cavalry’s assault on the upper bridge, Lt. Col. John Pemberton, a Confederate officer, received a sabre slash to his chest. As a result, he became addicted to the morphine he used to ease his pain.
In his quest to overcome his addiction, he founded a $260 billion dollar business and established an entire global industry. So how did he do that?
John Pemberton: A skilled chemist
Pemberton had been a doctor and a skilled chemist since he was 19 years old. He had a drug store in Columbus, where he started creating patent medicines after the Civil War. His first popular medicine, Pemberton’s French Wine Coca, was a derivative of Vin Mariani. It was a celebrated European beverage – and yes, it contained wine and cocaine.
Pemberton’s version was a potent mix of caffeinated kola nuts and damiana, a flower used in early versions of margarita cocktails. Nevertheless, early versions came packed with cocaine as the active ingredient.
Pemberton marketed his concoction as a remedy for almost any ailment, which was technically true. Although it may seem like he was attempting to cure an expensive morphine addiction with a cheaper cocaine addiction, this was not entirely the case.
At the time, cocaine was widely believed to cure morphine addiction.
Pemberton was not the only wounded Confederate veteran struggling with morphine addiction – many others were in a similar predicament. Furthermore, the people of the rapidly changing South suffered from various physical and mental ailments such as fatigue, headaches, anxiety, and depression. Doctors later termed it “neurasthenia” after the war.
French Wine Coca
Pemberton was seeking a cure-all remedy that would benefit both veterans and civilians.
French Wine Coca appeared to be the answer, and it quickly became popular. He subsequently relocated his business to Atlanta, where sales soared even higher. However, things worsened in 1886 when alcohol was outlawed in Fulton County. Although he continued selling French Wine Coca in other locations, he had to develop a new formula for Atlanta.
The chemist experimented with different ingredients in a brass kettle in his backyard while trying to create a non-alcoholic version of his medicine. He eventually concocted the final recipe, 7x flavoring, which remains a trade secret.
The birth of Coca Cola
While at a pharmacy, he mixed the syrup with carbonated water and discovered the magic formula. He named it Coca-Cola because he appreciated the alliteration.
His new beverage, marketed as “The Temperance Drink,” still contained coca leaves and kola nuts but substituted wine for sugar syrup. He marketed it as a cure “for nervous affections” and sold it at soda fountains in and around pharmacies. Although he attracted interested investors, Pemberton didn’t foresee Coca-Cola’s potential. A colossal mistake, some might say.
Gradually, he sold off his stake in the company.
Pemberton passed away in August 1888, but Coca-Cola continued to thrive. Soon after, Asa Griggs Candler, a former druggist and Atlanta businessman, took control of the entire enterprise. Candler’s business began to bottle the beverage and sold licensing rights to others to bottle Coca-Cola throughout the country. Aggressive marketing campaigns led to an explosion in popularity.
The Coca-Cola company maintains that the soda never contained actual cocaine, but fact-checkers have discovered evidence that the recipe included cocaine until the turn of the 20th century. Although coca leaves are still used in the recipe, the cocaine is extracted from its coca extract by the New Jersey-based company Stepan.
The Coca-Cola Company sells an estimated 1.9 billion drinks daily, without wine, cocaine, or any other intoxicating substance. But, if given a chance, would you like to take a sip of the good ol’ Cola?