By Judd Hambrick Special to the Daily Journal
Atlanta, Ga.: Aug. 15, 1903: Coca-Cola is called Coca-Cola for a reason. For the past 18 years since it was created in 1885, this renowned soft drink has contained some 9 milligrams of cocaine per 7-ounce glass and has a fairly large dose of the caffeine rich kola bean in every one of those servings, too. Those ingredients provide a powerful “pick-me-up” for thirsty customers everywhere. Cocaine combined with caffeine laden kola beans! Hence, the name Coca-Cola.
But, now, Coke is changing. Earlier this year, the New York Tribune ran an expose that linked cocaine to crime all over America and called for legal action against Coca-Cola to stop producing this cocaine-laced drink because it contributes to crimes committed by crazed people.
Since that story ran in the Tribune, Coke has quietly switched from using fresh coca leaves in its secret formula to a formula still using those same coca leaves for taste but with the actual cocaine taken out. Coca-Cola has been equally as mum about its subtle switch from promoting Coke as a type of cure-all tonic for aches and pains to being advertised instead as just a refreshing, drinkable beverage designed to cure thirst. Coke is changing.
Coca-Cola vehemently denies its drink has ever had any negative qualities that are harmful to its customers. Plus, the company points to the soft drink as being the most popular drink in America and is refreshingly healthy.
The cocaine ingredient has been a persistent problem for Coke since Atlanta druggist, John Pemberton, first concocted it nearly two decades ago. It is not too hard to understand why.
When Pemberton first registered his trademark for the drink in 1885, he did not call it Coca-Cola; he named it “French Wine Cola – Ideal Nerve and Tonic Stimulant.” Not a name that rolls easily off the tongue or a name designed to squelch rumors of cocaine use, since for decades “wine colas” in Europe have been known to contain cocaine. Fortunately, Pemberton’s bookkeeper came up with another name for the drink shortly after it began to be served to the public in Atlanta in 1886. The bookkeeper dubbed it the rolling alliterative and apt descriptive name “Coca-Cola.”
When Pemberton’s health began to fail in the late 1880s, he sold his little company and the formula for Coke to the far more successful Atlanta druggist, Asa Candler, in 1888 for $2,300. Pemberton died later that year at age 57.
Since then, of course, Candler has put his considerable marketing skills and business acumen to good use by mass producing this tasty drink and selling it – first in Atlanta, then the nation, and now there is talk of selling Coke to the entire world. Coca-Cola is rapidly becoming one of the most successful companies in the U.S.
But now, with the elimination of cocaine from its formula, our Coca-Cola drinking habits might not change but our verbal habits will. We can no longer refer to Coca-Cola as “dope,” or a “shot in the arm,” or refer to soda fountains as “hop joints,” or Coke delivery carts as “dope wagons.” That’s because, Coke is now minus coke. So, Coke is changing, folks. Here’s a good old-fashioned ice-cold toast to your new good health.
Update: Even today, well into the 2nd century of Coca-Cola’s operation, the thoughts that Coke contains cocaine still percolates just a little below the public’s consciousness. Many people always seem to ask the question when the subject comes up: “Is this true?” Coke maintains that at one time the drink contained “trivial” amounts of cocaine but even that small amount was removed from the formula more than a century ago.
To say Coca-Cola has been successful is like saying Wal-Mart is an interesting little store.
In 1886 in Atlanta, the Coke product was averaging about nine servings per day. In 2011 in all of the world’s 195 countries, Coke products are served at the rate 1.7 billion times a day. That’s nearly 30 percent of the human race drinking soft drinks produced by Coca-Cola each and every day.
A few other Coke historical facts: Dallas was the first city to open a Coca-Cola Bottling Company outside Atlanta. The first two countries outside the U.S. to bottle Coke were Cuba and Panama. For 65 years, Coca-Cola has been the most recognized trademark in the world. Not a bad success story from humble beginnings 125 years ago this year, making Coke a permanent part of Southern Memories.