John Stith Pemberton

Why is John Stith Pemberton a hero?

Well it is really quite simple...

He invented Coca-Cola! 

What is truly fascinating to think about, however, is the fact that without the American Civil War we wouldn't have Coca-Cola today...

Can you imagine what the world would be like without Coke? 

Coca-Cola has been so pervasive in society for nearly one hundred years, that it is hard to imagine how different things might be if it had never been invented. There can be no doubt that Coke's international footprint has been huge, and I find it interesting to think how things might differ, at least in the international business landscape, if this soft drink giant had never come to be.

An interesting thought, but essentially pointless. So, you may be wondering how I can claim that the Civil War is responsible for Pemberton's invention of Coca-Cola...

John Stith Pemberton

It is really quite simple, John Stith Pemberton, a Confederate Lieutenant Colonel, served in the defense of Columbia, Georgia, during the Battle of Columbus. During this battle, he received a nasty saber wound on his chest. This wound led to a morphine addiction. In an effort to create a 'cure' for his addiction, Pemberton formulated an early version of Coca-Cola, "Pemberton's French Wine Coca." Later on he used this formula to develop the very first Coca-Cola...

So, without the Civil War, the Battle of Columbus would not have happened. If the Battle of Columbus hadn't happened, John Pemberton would not have been injured. If he had not been injured, he would not have gotten addicted to morphine. Without an addiction, he would not have searched for a cure, and if he had not been searching for a cure, we would never have gotten Coke!

Coca Cola

Can't Kick The Habit...

...sounds like a lot of Coke drinkers, doesn't it?

Anyway, as I mentioned, John Stith Pemberton's morphine addiction was what led him to develop the original formula for Coca-Cola. Sadly, morphine addiction was very common among wounded Civil War veterans. Pemberton figured if he could come up with something to 'cure' him of his addiction, he would be able to sell it to a huge market of fellow-addicts.

At this time there was a hugely popular French medicinal drink called Vin Mariani. This drink was essentially a wine infused with the coca leaf (the source of cocaine). Pemberton eventually launched his own version of this medicinal wine, but his wine was infused with the kola nut (for caffeine) and damiana (reputedly a powerful aphrodisiac) in addition to the coca leaves. He called his drink, "Pemberton's French Wine Coca."

John Pemberton's new drink became so popular in Atlanta that it was soon sold in almost all the drug stores in the city. This "French Wine Coca" was said to be an,"invigorator of the brain," and Pemberton recommended it to aid in overcoming morphine addictions.

When asked to describe his popular drink, Pemberton said, "It is composed of an extract from the leaf of Peruvian Coca, the purest wine, and the Kola nut. It is the most excellent of all tonics, assisting digestion, imparting energy to the organs of respiration, and strengthening the muscular and nervous systems."

The popularity of his drink even began to spread throughout the Southeast, but in 1886 a problem came up...

Coca Cola Is Born!

Coca Cola bottling line 1958

In 1886, the city of Atlanta enacted legislation which brought about prohibition. It didn't matter that he was selling it as a medicine, John Stith Pemberton's "French Wine Coca" was now illegal...

Therefore, he set about the task of recreating his popular beverage as a "temperance drink." The most important ingredients were the coca leaves and the kola nuts, but he needed some way to deliver them in a drink that people would enjoy. First he used sugar syrup to replace the sweetness of the wine, thereby creating a base syrup for his drink. Finally, it was determined that mixing the syrup with carbonated water created a "delicious" fountain drink.

Pemberton's friend Frank Mason Robinson came up with a catchy new name for the drink, and on May 8, 1886, the first Coca-Cola was sold at Jacob's Pharmacy in Atlanta, Georgia.

This new drink was marketed as, "delicious, exhilarating, refreshing and invigorating,"  while still retaining, "the valuable tonic and nerve stimulant properties of the coca plant and cola nuts."

Apparently not believing the long-term potential of his new drink, Pemberton slowly sold off his ownership of the brand and his secret formula. By the time he died in 1888, John Stith Pemberton no longer had any stake in the future soft drink juggernaut. It is said that on the day of his funeral, all the drug stores in Atlanta were closed while their owners attended, and "not one drop of Coca-Cola was dispensed in the entire city."

Within a few years, Atlanta druggist Asa Candler had bought out all the partners in Pemberton's old company and had complete control of Coca-Cola. Using his acute business acumen and aggressive marketing, Candler launched Coke on its way to becoming the number one brand in the world...

...but without John Stith Pemberton getting injured in an unimportant battle that occurred after Lee's surrender in April of 1865, we wouldn't have Coca-Cola today...

So, as I said before, we have the American Civil War to thank for the most popular soft drink in the history of ever!

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