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 was the beverage that his bookkeeper suggested they call Coca-Cola after its two main ingredients–coca leaves and kola nuts, which added caffeine. A little more than a month later, on May 8, the first glass of Coca-Cola was sold at Jacob’s Pharmacy in Atlanta for five cents.
In addition to relieving headaches and bad nerves, Pemberton hoped his drink would 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 was not quite as popular as his wine drink had been–about nine servings were sold each day. Through the rest of 1886, it generated a total of $50 in sales.
The next year Pemberton sold his secret formula to an Atlanta businessman named Ada Candler for a little more than $2,000. When Pemberton died a year later, he had no idea how famous his drink will become.
Within a few years, Candler, a marketing genius, was promoting the soda wherever he could–it’s now-famous script logo could be seen on signs, calendars, clocks, fans, urns, cabinets and newspapers all over town. In 1889, more than 60,000 drinks were sold. While it was promoted mainly as a “delicious and refreshing” soft drink, Candler was also able get doctors to recommend Coca-Cola for mental and physical exhaustion, headaches and depression. Within 10 years, he turned it into a national brand.
Early in the 20th century, the coca leaves were taken out of the formula. The caffeine remained.
More slices of history