The Coca-Cola bottle design introduced in 1915. Image courtesy, which sells the original: a design on an old corporate check.


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KAREN HOCHMAN is Editorial Director of THE NIBBLE.



February 2011
Last Updated January 2013

Product Reviews / Main Nibbles / Beverages

Coca-Cola History

And The Original Coca-Cola Recipe


CAPSULE REPORT: Water is the most-consumed drink in the world, followed by tea. But according to Tom Standage, Digital Editor at The Economist and author of A History of the World in 6 Glasses, Coca-Cola is the only branded product in his assessment of six beverages that changed the world (beer, wine, spirits, coffee, tea and Coke). Here, a history of the drink and the original recipe. This is Page 1 of a two-page article. Click on the black links below to visit other pages.

Coca-Cola History

John Stith Pemberton, a pharmacist in Atlanta, created Coca-Cola as a medicinal tonic. Pemberton was a Civil War veteran who returned home with a morphine addiction. Hoping to cure his ailment, he brewed Pemberton’s French Wine Coca with kola nuts, coca wine and other ingredients. In 1886, after Atlanta passed prohibition legislation, Pemberton had to reformulate the tonic without alcohol.

He brewed the caramel-colored syrup in a three-legged brass kettle in his backyard. He brought a jug of syrup down the street to Jacob’s Pharmacy, where it was first sold, mixed with carbonated water from the soda fountain, for five cents a glass. According to Tom Standage, author of History of the World in 6 Glasses, the pharmacy sold about nine Coca-Colas a day.

Pemberton’s bookkeeper and partner, Frank M. Robinson, suggested the name (it was made with both cocaine and kola nuts) and hand-scripted the “Coca-Cola” logotype. Why not Coca-Kola? Robinson thought the two Cs would look well in advertising.

Coca-Cola was a hit, and Pemberton distributed it to other pharmacies as well.*

*Yes, the original recipe contained cocaine. Cocaine was removed from the recipe in 1904; and tonics, wines and liquors made with cocaine were banned in 1912. However, decoctions of coca leaves are still used in its production today.

The following year, Asa Candler, a wholesale druggist and successful manufacturer of patent medicines, purchased the formula from Pemberton for $2,300. While that was a nice piece of change at the time, Candler’s children sold the company in 1919 for $25 million to an investor group that took the company public (at $40 a share, a huge amount for the time).

Candler revised the formula several times to improve its taste, shelf life and unique flavor, and also to create a “secret recipe” because several people knew Pemberton’s formula. Within four years, the savvy businessman achieved nationwide distribution and was marketing the former medicine as a soft drink.

Candler was maniacal about protecting his secret recipe. He demanded that no one ever write it down. All labels were removed from ingredient containers. Staff had to identify the ingredients by sight and smell only. All invoices from the ingredients suppliers were shredded, so that employees could not discover what they were and sell the information to rivals.

Tom Standage, author of History of the World in 6 Glasses, sees the rise of American capitalism mirrored in the history of Coca-Cola. Over the course of the 20th century, the product started as a local, handmade drink that morphed into a mass-produced global commodity, one of world’s most valuable brands. According to Standage. “Coca-Cola” may be the second most widely understood phrase in the world, after “OK.”

Here’s more history from an article on the New York Times Op-Ed Page (January 28, 2013) that includes details on how, due to the original cocaine recipe, Southern African Americans were prohibited from drinking Coca Cola; Coca Cola became the “white” drink and Pepsi the “black” drink.

The Coca-Cola Bottle History

The one mistake Asa Candler made was to sell the bottling rights in 1899—for one dollar! At the time, people visited the soda fountain at the pharmacy for a soft drink. Candler didn’t think there was a future in bottling the product.

The drink was first bottled in 1894 by Joseph A. Biedenharn in Vicksburg, Mississippi. The iconic hourglass bottle shape was a later development:

Photo courtesy Design Interviews. See their fascinating collection of Coca-Cola bottles from around the world.


Continue To Page 2: The Original Coca-Cola Recipe

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