First batch of Coca-Cola: March 29, 1886
Working over a three-legged brass kettle in his backyard in Atlanta, Georgia, a pharmacist named John Pemberton stirs up a carbonated syrup concoction. His invention is a soda drink, but one that he thinks has curative powers–a “brain tonic” that can ease headaches and calm nerves.
It’s not Pemberton’s first attempt at creating flavorful medicine. Previously, he had mixed wine and coca leaves, resulting in a kind of cocaine cocktail he called “Pemberton’s French Wine Coca.” He had described it as being beneficial to “clergymen, lawyers, literary men, bankers, ladies, and all whose sedentary employment causes nervous prostration, irregularities of the stomach, bowels and kidneys who require a nerve tonic and a pure, delightful diffusable stimulant.”
It had been a big hit at the pharmacy where he worked, but when Atlanta banned alcohol, he had to come up with a non-alcoholic version. The result is the beverage that his bookkeeper suggests they call Coca-Cola after its two main ingredients–coca leaves and kola nuts, which adds caffeine. A little more than a month later, on May 8, the first glass of Coca-Cola is sold at Jacob’s Pharmacy in Atlanta for five cents.
In addition to relieving headaches and bad nerves, Pemberton hopes his drink will help fight morphine addiction. Pemberton had been slashed across his chest with a sword when he had been a Confederate Army officer, and like many wounded Civil War veterans, he had become addicted to morphine.
His Coca-Cola is not quite as popular as his wine drink had been–about nine servings are sold each day. Through the rest of 1886, it generates a total of $50 in sales.
The next year Pemberton sells his secret formula to an Atlanta businessman named Ada Candler for a little more than $2,000. When Pemberton dies a year later, he has no idea how famous his drink will become.
Within a few years, Candler, a marketing genius, is promoting the soda whereever he can—it’s now-famous script logo can be seen on signs, calendars, clocks, fans, urns, cabinets and newspapers all over town. In 1889, more than 60,000 drinks are sold. While it’s promoted mainly as a “delicious and refreshing” soft drink, Candler is also able get doctors to recommend Coca-Cola for mental and physical exhaustion, headaches and depression. Within 10 years, he has turned it into a national brand.
Early in the 20th century, the coca leaves are taken out of the formula. The caffeine remains.
More slices of history
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Aspirin is born: March 6, 1899
Discovery of DNA: Feb. 28, 1953
Alka-Seltzer born: Feb. 21, 1931
First penicillin shot: Feb. 12, 1941
Longest surgery: Feb. 4-8, 1951
First Social Security check: Jan. 31, 1940
First electric dental drill: Jan. 26, 1875
First x-ray demo: Jan. 13, 1896
Smoking tied to cancer: Jan. 11, 1964