Friday, December 21, 2007 12/21/07-Coca-Cola

In today's excerpt--the temperance drink:

"In May 1886 John Pemberton, a pharmacist who lived in Atlanta, Georgia, invented a drink. According to the Coca-Cola Company's official version, he was a tinkerer who stumbled on the right combination of ingredients by accident, while trying to devise a cure for headaches. ... The real story is rather more complicated, however.

"Pemberton was, in fact, an experienced maker of patent medicines, the quack remedies that were hugely popular in America in the late nineteenth century. ... Pemberton's attempts to make patent medicines had met with mixed success. ... Finally, in 1884, he started to get somewhere, thanks to the popularity of a new patent medicine ingredient: coca.

"The leaves of the coca plant had long been known among South American peoples for their stimulating effect; coca was known as 'the divine plant of the Incas.' Chewing a small ball of the leaves releases tiny quantities of an alkaloid drug, cocaine. In small doses, this sharpens the mind, much like caffeine, and suppresses the appetite. ... Cocaine was isolated from coca leaves in 1855, and it then became the subject of much interest among Western scientists and doctors. ... By the 1880s [Pemberton] and other patent-medicine makers were incorporating cocaine into their tablets, elixirs, and ointments. Pemberton's contribution to this burgeoning field was a drink called French Wine Cola.

"As its name suggests, this was coca-infused wine. In fact, it was just one of many attempts to imitate a particularly successful patent medicine called Vin Mariani, which consisted of French wine in which coca leaves had been steeped for six months. ... Pemberton copied the coca-infused wine formula and added kola extract too. The nuts of the Kola plant from West Africa were another supposed wonder-cure that had become known in the West at around the same time as coca, and also had an invigorating effect when chewed, since they contain about 2 percent caffeine.

"Sales of his French Wine Coca began to grow. But just when it seemed that Pemberton was on the right track, Atlanta and Fulton County voted to prohibit the sale of alcohol from July 1, 1886, for a two-year trial period. ... He went back to his elaborate home laboratory and started work on a 'temperance drink' containing coca and kola, with the bitterness of the two principal ingredients masked using sugar. ...

"The first advertisement for the new drink in the Atlanta Journal on May 29, 1886, was short and to the point: 'Coca-Cola. Delicious! Refreshing! Exhilarating! Invigorating! The new and popular soda fountain drink containing the properties of the wonderful Coca plant and the famous Cola nut.' The new drink had launched just in time for Atlanta's experiment with Prohibition."

Tom Standage, A History of the World in Six Glasses, Walker and Company, Copyright 2005 by Tom Standage, pp. 232-238.


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