I hope you’ve all enjoyed the Six-Word Stories I’ve been putting out! I’m now beginning a new segment called “Time Capsule Log”, which I’m extremely excited about. I’ll be exploring inventions & breakthroughs with weird origin stories, whether it be failed pharmaceutical drugs eventually fated for non-clinical use or accidental products that have ended up medically successful. Curiosity is one of the great virtues of mankind, and it just goes to show purpose doesn’t have to be born out of intention. Alrighty, enough introduction – onto the fun!
The History of Coca-Cola
What? Coca-Cola was initially formulated as a cure for morphine addiction. What!?
Who? John Pemberton was a pharmacist and “the most noted physician Atlanta ever had” according to Atlanta newspapers1, but he was also a Confederate veteran of the Civil War.
Why? He was almost killed fighting in the Battle of Columbus in April 1865, and with his background as a pharmacist, his access to morphine and need to appease the pain from his war injuries lead to a strong morphine addiction2.
How? In 1884, Pemberton began experimenting to create opium-free medication as an attempt to cure his addiction, and along the way, another doctor claimed coca (cocaine) had the ability to do so. Thus, Pemberton devised “French Wine Coca”, a concoction containing coca leaves, caffeine-containing kola nuts, and wine. The product was advertised dramatically as seen on the label below (well I’ll be; it cures heart disease!). However, the city of Atlanta enacted legislation bringing about local prohibition in 1886, and Pemberton was forced to remove the alcoholic element from his formula, despite selling it as a medicine. Thus, he had to revise his to-be popular beverage by using sugar syrup to replace the wine’s sweetness and carbonating the mixture, eventually marketing it as the Coca-Cola we all know and love today. This new drink was advertised as “delicious, exhilarating, refreshing and invigorating” whilst retaining “the valuable tonic and nerve stimulant properties of the coca plant and cola nuts.” The cocaine ingredient persisted, however, only until the beginning of the 1900s because a series of stories spread throughout the South that black men were getting high on cocaine before raping white women (yikes!)3.
In such devastating irony, despite claims made about Coca-Cola’s restorative powers, Pemberton remained addicted to morphine; he never realised the long-potential of the beverage he created, slowly selling off the company in pieces to various partners before dying of stomach cancer in 1888.4 It is said that on the day of Pemberton’s funeral, the owners of all the drug stores in Atlanta attended the services as a tribute of respect, and “not one drop of Coca-Cola was dispensed in the entire city.”5
I’ve always admired how Coca-Cola holds these joyful campaigns that celebrate authentic, genuine moments in life. Perhaps Pemberton couldn’t cure his own morphine addiction, but he created something pretty beautiful out of it. Lest we forget, let’s clink together a couple of Cokes and say cheers.