Ahh! It’s Delicious! Refreshing! Invigorating! Exhilarating! It’s how you “Refresh Yourself.” It makes good things taste better and is America’s choice. End of clues. If you haven’t figured out that these are slogans from one of America’s most famous gifts to the world—Coca-Cola®—you probably haven’t been living on Planet Earth. And May 8 is its (gulp) 123rd birthday.
John Styth Pemberton
The man whom the world can thank for Coca-Cola is pharmacist John Styth Pemberton. After fighting for the Confederacy during the Civil War, Pemberton moved to Atlanta where he specialized in the mixing and vending of various patent medicines. He claimed that one of his recipes, a Bordeaux laced with caffeine (from the seed of an African kola tree) and cocaine, would cure sluggishness, nervous disorders, headaches, internal plumbing and improve sexual performance. Not surprisingly, French Wine of Coca, was his best seller.
In November 1885, Atlanta voted to become a dry city. After much experimentation with nonwine coca-kola concoctions—most of which proved to be unpleasantly bitter—Pemberton added sugar, vanilla, caramel, orange, lemon, nutmeg, lime juice, cinnamon, coriander oil and a small amount of cocaine coming from the coca leaves and kola nuts.
On May 8, 1886, he had concocted a syrup in a three-legged brass pot in his backyard that was a delicious caramel-colored nectar. He hauled some in a jug to a local pharmacy called Jacob’s, where it was sold at the soda fountain as a “Delicious and Refreshing” drink for 5 cents a glass.
5-cent Coke machine
(If you’d like to learn more about the items pictured, click on the images.)
Frank M. Robinson, Pemberton’s bookkeeper, thought that having two Cs in the product’s name would be catchier. And so coca kola became Coca-Cola. It was also Robinson who penned the famous Spencerian script that became the soda’s trademark.
In 1886, sales of Coca-Cola averaged nine drinks per day. Unfortunately, Pemberton was a drug addict and began selling interests in the business. Just before he died in 1888, Pemberton sold his remaining interest to Atlanta businessman Asa G. Candler. Candler, eventually, gained total control of the company—and removed cocaine from the formula.
Even the bottle has a rich history. Early Coca-Cola bottles were straight sided. But in 1916, the bottle was contoured to add interest. In the 1920s, the six-pack bottle package was introduced into grocery stores so that consumers could take the beverage home. Things got even better, though, in 1929, with the introduction of open-top coolers. This allowed Americans on roads trips to have “cold pop on the spot.”
Bottles with Coke still inside, 1970s
Barack Obama inauguration bottle, sealed
Andy Warhol's three Coke bottles offset litho
It was at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1933 that the Coca-Cola Co. introduced the automatic fountain dispenser that mixed caramelized syrup with carbonated water. By 1937, the drink was served at fountains everywhere and was promoted with the slogan “It’s the Refreshing Thing to Do.”
Coca-Cola really went into action along with “Our Boys” during World War II when it went to the beaches and battlefronts worldwide. The company wanted to be sure that “every man in uniform gets a bottle of Coca-Cola for 5 cents wherever he is and whatever it costs the company.” The beverage became a favorite drink of soldiers everywhere who found American comfort on foreign soil.
1942 ad featuring military women
Throughout its infinite promotions, Coca-Cola outdid itself with idealized models and illustrators. Two of the earliest models were actress Hilda Clark and Metropolitan Opera star Ullian Nordica. (Any collector owning advertising with their original likenesses has hit pay dirt.) Artists who illustrated ads for Coca-Cola included some of the most famous names— Norman Rockwell, Hamilton King, N. C. Wyeth and Haddon Sundblom, who created the Coca-Cola Santa.
Coca-Cola Santa card
Since its inception, Coca-Cola has been a world leader in innovative merchandising and advertising policies. Coca-Cola’s first advertising calendar in the 1880s promoted the slogan “For Headaches and Tired Feelings. Relieves Physical and Mental Exhaustion.” By 1905, they had already produced calendars, stationery, booklets, logo-decorated ceramic syrup urns, postcards, coupons, bookmarks, trays, a plethora of signs, advertising clocks, fans, napkins, banners, posters, novelties and the once familiar Coca-Cola flare glass.
1940s Coke tablet
Coke popcorn box, 1960s
Coca-Cola Party Barbie
Flat-top cans were invented for soldiers in 1956. And, at a cost of a quarter of a million dollars, 300 Challenger Space Shuttle cans were produced in 1985. On July 31 of that year, Coca-Cola became the first carbonated beverage to be drunk in space.
Let’s test your memory and see how far you and Coca-Cola go back.
• 1886—Drink Coca-Cola
• 1887—Delicious! Refreshing! Invigorating! Exhilarating!
• 1891—The Ideal Brain Tonic/The Delightful Summer-Winter Beverage
• 1904—Delicious and Refreshing
• 1905—Coca-Cola Revives and Sustains
• 1906—The Great National Temperance Beverage
• 1908—Good til the Last Drop
• 1917—Three Million a Day
• 1922—Thirst Knows No Season
• 1923—Enjoy Life
• 1924—Refresh Yourself
• 1925—Six Million a Day
• 1926—It Had to Be Good to Get Where It Is
• 1927—Pure as Sunlight
• 1927 – Around the Corner from Anywhere
• 1928—Coca-Cola . . . Pure Drink of Natural Flavors
• 1929—The Pause That Refreshes
• 1932—Ice-Cold Sunshine
• 1938—The Best Friend Thirst Ever Had
• 1938—Thirst Asks Nothing More
• 1939—Coca-Cola Goes Along
• 1939—Coca-Cola Has the Taste Thirst Goes For
• 1939—Whoever You Are, Whatever You Do, Wherever You May Be, When You Think of Refreshment, Think of Ice-Cold Coca-Cola
• 1942—It’s the Real Thing
• 1944—Global High Sign
• 1948—Where There’s Coke There’s Hospitality
• 1949—Coca-Cola . . . Along the Highway to Anywhere
• 1952—What You Want Is a Coke
• 1956—Coca-Cola . . . Makes Good Things Taste Better
• 1957—The Sign of Good Taste
1958 ad with carhop serving Coke to hipster grannies
• 1958—The Cold, Crisp Taste of Coke
• 1959—Be Really Refreshed
• 1963—Things Go Better with Coke
• 1969—It’s the Real Thing
• 1976—Coke Adds Life
• 1979—Have a Coke and a Smile
• 1982—Coke Is It!
• 1985—America’s Real Choice
• 1986—Red White & You (for Coca-Cola Classic)
• 1986—Catch the Wave (for New Coke, composed by David “Dave” Lucas)
• 1987—You Can’t Beat the Feeling (also by David Lucas)
• 1993—Always Coca-Cola
• 2001—Life Tastes Good
• 2006—The Coke Side of Life
• 2007—Live on the Coke Side of Life
Sharon Fangohr Hodle and Wayne Mattox contributed to this story.
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