an AMERICAN ICON, an EMBLEMATIC PAST
Text and layout by Liam Greenamyre
Left: A Coca-Cola truck in front of the Cristo Redentor statue in Rio de Janiero, Brazil Below: Post-Civil War Atlanta
simple product that captured the hearts and minds of the world. But much like America’s own history, the history of Coca-Cola is far more complicated than the history books would suggest. In those days, the city was little more than a ragtag assortment of shanties, whorehouses, and saloons
here is nothing more American than CocaCola. Across the world, there is no more potent symbol for not only the United States, but for capitalism, democracy, and the Western way of life. It is the most widely distributed product in the history of the world, and is sold in more countries than are members of the United Nations. Coca-Cola’s official history has been whitewashed into classic American success story – the story of a humble man and a
s many know, Atlanta was first called Terminus – it was simply where the nation’s rail lines stopped. In those days, the city was little more than a ragtag assortment of shanties, whore-
Coca-Cola’s inventor, John Pemberton, in his Civil War uniform
houses, and saloons, all of which were burned to the ground by William Tecumseh Sherman and his men. After the Civil War, however, Atlanta renamed itself The Phoenix City and began to transform into a “great, populous, and thriving metropolis, [Pemberton] bore a massive saber scar across his chest and abdomen. His most lasting and malignant wounds, however, were beneath the surface famous for the greatness and the brilliancy of its enterprises.” A visitor to the city in 1866 noted that in Atlanta, “The men rush about like mad, and keep up such a bustle, worry, and chatter.” Atlanta became a city of entrepreneurs and of ‘Southern Yankees,’ and the hub for a new American fascination – the soda fountain. Popular not only for its refreshment in the sweltering Atlanta summer, but also for its supposed salutary affects, soda fountains in drug stores began springing up across the city. It was against this classic South-
ern backdrop that a man named John Pemberton moved to the city.
ohn Pemberton is remembered as a perfect Southern gentleman, respected by those around him but an incessant tinkerer, often missing mealtimes and staying up late into the night. He was a leading figure in the booming patent medicine business, an industry whose products promised instant cures for everything from nervousness and indiges-
tion to cancer, impotence and headaches, at a time when practitioners of traditional medicine may have killed as many patients as they cured. Pemberton had been wounded in one of the final skirmishes of the Civil War, and bore a massive saber scar across his chest and abdomen. His most lasting and malignant wounds, however, were beneath the surface; for the rest of his life Pemberton carried with him an incessant morphine addiction, a problem so common among Civil War veterans that it was called the “Army disease.”
fter several of his patent medicines failed to catch on, Pemberton became fascinated with a new substance garnering attention Above: Soldiers drinking Coke by the crest of the Matterhorn Right: An advertisement for Vin Mariani
worldwide – cocaine. The coca leaf was seen as a stimulant, an aid to digestion, an aphrodisiac, and a life-extending elixir. A new cocaine-laced drink, Vin Mariani, was sweeping the nation, endorsed by public figures from Presidents to popes. Pemberton became obsessed with these two stimulants not only for their potential profitability, but also for another of their proposed uses – as an easy cure for opium and morphine addiction. Already, however, some physicians spoke out, warning
A Coke stand in front of the Great Sphinx of Giza
of the addictive properties of cocaine. The Atlanta Constitution published an article declaring that “the injudicious use of cocaine will make a man more brutal and depraved than either liquor or morphine. Herein lies a new danger.”
cerian script’ logo and coin the drink’s name. Soon after the formula had been finalized and the drink began to be marketed, Pemberton’s health began to fail and he initiated a series of transactions that would lead to one of history’s most confused and convoluted company formations. Without informing his partners, Pemberton simultaneously sold more stake History has revealed, however, that not one, but two of the signatures transferring ownership to Candler were forgeries.
Shortly after a period of prohibition began in Atlanta, Pemberton and his business partners perfected the formula for Coca-Cola. One of these partners was Frank Robinson, who would design the now famous ‘Spen-
A Coca-Cola delivery truck in the Piaza del Duomo, Milan, Italy
than he owned to many separate investors and gave more still to his son Charley. By 1888 there were nine potential claimants to the company and its prized formula, including a man named Asa Griggs Candler.
sa Griggs Candler had been an enterprising businessman since birth, known to do almost anything for a dollar. Candler’s father, a lawyer, had declined to
represent Frank Robinson in his case against John Pemberton. Asa saw an opportunity in Coca-Cola and began to acquire stake. In 1888, Candler, Charley Pemberton, and one other partner formed Coca-Cola Company. By 1889, Candler had bought out his partner’s shares and was calling himself the drink’s sole proprietor. History has revealed, however, that not one, but two of the signatures transferring ownership to Candler were forgeries. Analysis shows that Charley Pemberton most likely forged his own father’s signature in exchange for a quick payday to support his alcoholism and womanizing. Charley was found dead in 1894, the result of an opium overdoes and apparent suicide. It wasn’t until 1892 that Candler formed The Coca-Cola Company, the legal basis for today’s corporation. The older Coca-Cola Company has never been acknowledged in the company’s official history.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower enjoys a Coke at a fueling station
espite attempted lawsuits and other complications, the charter for the original corporation expired in 1908, clearing one of the final obstacles in Candler’s and Coca-Cola’s ascendancy. In 1910, Candler ordered records of the company’s early history burned, leaving only circumstantial evidence and rumors to explain what had truly transpired. And so Coca-Cola, much like its hometown of Atlanta, was born of flames, growing from the ashes to become a presence felt the world over.