The cola beverage which gave rise to The Coca-Cola Company was invented in 1886, so it is perhaps no surprise that the drink and the company itself has a long and storied history.
In this article, we’ll explore some of the twists and turns of this iconic brand and how it grew into the global force it is today.
Birth in Atlanta
Addicted to morphine after being wounded in the American Civil war, Atlanta pharmacist John Pemberton developed a substitute for the drug in the form of flavored syrup.
The syrup, which contained coca leaf extract and caffeine, was marketed as a patent medicine that could cure anything from nerve disorders to addiction, headaches, upset stomach, and impotence.
When some states passed prohibition legislation in the late 1800s, Pemberton also capitalized on support for the temperance movement by claiming that the drink was a healthy alternative to alcohol.
He took his concoction down the street to Jacobs’ Pharmacy where it was first sold from a soda fountain for the princely sum of 5 cents a glass.
Origins of the Coca-Cola name
The person credited for naming the soda is Frank M. Robinson, Pemberton’s partner and bookkeeper who believed that “the two Cs would look well in advertising.”
The first ever advertisement for Coca-Cola then appeared in The Atlanta Journal with oilcloth banners also draped over shop awnings. Coupons advertising free drinks were also advertised, which was considered an innovative marketing tactic at the time.
During the first year, sales of the drink averaged 9 servings per day.
Pemberton’s death and sale of the company
By 1888, three different versions of Coca-Cola sold by three different companies were on the market.
Soon thereafter, Pemberton became ill and was nearly bankrupt since the drink cost more to make than he was earning in revenue.
He then entered into a partnership with four Atlanta businessmen to sell parts of the business.
Codified by a verbal agreement, Pemberton stated that the Coca-Cola trademark would belong to his son Charley, but the other manufacturers could use his formula.
The Coca-Cola Company was incorporated in March 1888 with Charley Pemberton a major shareholder due to his ownership of the “Coca-Cola” name.
Pemberton then succumbed to stomach cancer five months later, but before his death, he acted as a consignor for Charley who sold a 33% interest in the recipe for Coca-Cola to pharmacist Asa Griggs Candler.
After Pemberton died, Candler started selling a similar drink to Coca-Cola. But since Charley Pemberton owned the rights to the name, Candler was forced to use brand names such as “Koke” and “Yum Yum” which were not popular with consumers.
While stories differ on what happened next, most believe that Candler moved swiftly to obtain greater control over the company.
One story states that Candler arrived at Pemberton’s funeral to buy the trademark from Charley’s mother for $300 cash, while another is that he tried to force two of the businessmen in Pemberton’s original partnership out of the business.
However, when Charley Pemberton died of a suspected drug overdose in 1894, Candler attained sole control over the company more or less by default.
By 1895, Coca-Cola was enjoyed across the United States with expansion into Cuba in 1899 and Europe in 1901.
Around this time, Candler sold the bottling rights to three businessmen from Tennessee who had some of the earliest technology that could bottle drinks at scale.
Candler sold the rights for just $1 and would later regret not asking for more. But with the first botting facility established in Chattanooga in 1899, he nevertheless set the company on a path to world domination in the beverage industry.
- The cola beverage which gave rise to The Coca-Cola Company was invented in 1886, so it is perhaps no surprise that the drink and company itself has a long and storied history.
- Addicted to morphine after being wounded in the American Civil war, Atlanta pharmacist John Pemberton developed a substitute for the drug in the form of a flavored syrup that contained caffeine and coca leaf extract.
- After a series of protracted and complex deals over the rights to the Coca-Cola trademark and recipe, Asa Griggs Candler gained control over the company after Charley Pemberton’s death in 1894. His decision to sell the bottling rights to a concern in Tennessee enabled the company to distribute bottled drinks at scale.