From cocaine to cola, The early history of Coca-Cola

The early history of Coca-Cola

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It was the Gilded Age—a period that marked the transition of the United States from an agriculture society to industrialism and capitalism. Due to greater socioeconomic demands and challenges, this period left Americans overworked, tired, and anxious. Demands for medications that could help in relieving stress including morphine and alcohol were high. The country became a nation of neurotics.

In 1885 in Columbus, Georgia, pharmacist and owner of the Eagle Drug and Chemical House Dr. John Stith Pemberton concocted a nerve tonic beverage that could relieve stress and bodily pains. He used several ingredients, including cocaine that he derived from the coca plant and another substance derived from the kola nut. The Coca Cola was born—a name suggested by his bookkeeper, Frank Robinson.

The tonic beverage became a hit. Pemberton positioned his product as a non-alcoholic version of the French Wine Coca. Furthermore, apart from reliving stress and body pain, he claimed that Coca Cola can cure several diseases, including morphine addiction, dyspepsia, neurasthenia, headache, and impotence.

Although Coca Cola was the brainchild of Pemberton, the emergence of the American multinational beverage company could be attributed to Asa Griggs Candler, a businessman based in Atlanta who strongly believed that the tonic beverage had helped him get through chronic headaches.

Pemberton died in 1888. Fortunately, Candler was already working to secure the rights to the Coca Cola formula and brand from 1888 to 1891. He eventually bought the rights for $2,300 and subsequently became the president of the Coca-Cola Company. Candler was an experienced salesperson. His leadership marked an aggressive business expansion that helped in marketing the tonic beverage in the greater American market. The beverage, Coca-Cola, carried the slogan, “The Wonderful Nerve and Brain Tonic.”

The success of the company and the product was further accelerated by the introduction of portable glass bottles that was eventually adopted by Candler in 1899. With this new packaging, distributing and selling Coca-Cola became easier.

The company however suffered from imitation from competitors. In addition, even during the 1890s, the beverage was criticised for featuring cocaine in its formulation. But the company prevailed. Around the same time, Candler and his partner Frank Robinson worked to improve the formulation of the beverage, spending $22,500 on ingredients. They also spent another $11,400 to improve the marketing efforts of the company.

True global prominence emerged after banker Ernest Woodruff bought the company for USD 25 million in 1919. His son, Ernest, spent the next 60 years introducing the company further to the world and expanding it with more products and brands.