Pemberton Introduces Coca-Cola Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Originally touted as a medicine, Coca-Cola was soon advertised as a carbonated soft drink. Its remarkable commercial growth illustrates and parallels the triumph of American capitalism in the last quarter of the nineteenth century.

Summary of Event

Between 1880 and 1910, the population of the United States grew from 50 million to 91 million people, nearly doubling in three decades. This growth corresponded to the transformation of the United States from an agrarian society to an urbanized society as mills and factories were built throughout the United States. The development of American capitalism in this era resulted in the growth of the advertising industry, which allowed companies to promote their products. At the same time, the railroads were expanding throughout the United States, allowing corporations to create national markets for their products. Pemberton, John Stith Coca-Cola[Coca Cola] Inventions;Coca-Cola[Coca Cola] Candler, Asa G. Georgia;Coca-Cola[Coca Cola] [kw]Pemberton Introduces Coca-Cola (May 8, 1886) [kw]Introduces Coca-Cola, Pemberton (May 8, 1886) [kw]Coca-Cola, Pemberton Introduces (May 8, 1886) Pemberton, John Stith Coca-Cola[Coca Cola] Inventions;Coca-Cola[Coca Cola] Candler, Asa G. Georgia;Coca-Cola[Coca Cola] [g]United States;May 8, 1886: Pemberton Introduces Coca-Cola[5480] [c]Inventions;May 8, 1886: Pemberton Introduces Coca-Cola[5480] [c]Business and labor;May 8, 1886: Pemberton Introduces Coca-Cola[5480] [c]Trade and commerce;May 8, 1886: Pemberton Introduces Coca-Cola[5480] Robinson, Frank M. Whitehead, Joseph B. Thomas, Benjamin Franklin

In the new, hectic and stressful urban environment, a market for patent medicines thrived. Patent medicines were not medicines that had been patented. Rather, they were secret formulas and unproved remedies that were advertised and sold directly to the public. Often containing alcohol or other drugs and touted as healthful “elixirs,” these medicines were inexpensive to produce and highly profitable. The medical profession had not kept pace with the Industrial Revolution, and patent medicines filled the void. The newspaper industry thrived from the advertising revenues generated by these tonics and preparations, with their promises of curing a broad variety of ills.

Coca-Cola was invented in this era by an Atlanta Atlanta, Georgia;Coca-Cola pharmacist, Dr. John Pemberton. Prior to inventing Coca-Cola, Pemberton had developed a wine called French Wine Coca, a drink that included ingredients from kola nuts and coca leaves. However, in November, 1885, when Fulton County, Georgia, voted to “go dry” by prohibiting alcoholic drinks, Pemberton began to experiment with his drink to find a way to sell it under the new law. He removed the wine and began experimenting the various combinations of oils, sugar, and citric acid. On May 8, 1886, his “temperance drink” was introduced to Atlanta consumers when he took a jug of his syrup to Jacob’s Pharmacy, where it was sold as a soda-fountain drink by combining carbonated water with Pemberton’s new syrup. First marketed as a nerve tonic, Coca-Cola was later promoted as a remedy for indigestion. In its first year, about nine glasses of Coca-Cola were sold daily. The cost to produce the drink was between a half cent and one-and-a-half cents; the drink sold for a nickel.

Pemberton’s partner, Frank M. Robinson Robinson, Frank M. , was responsible for the name Coca-Cola. The name described the key ingredients of the drink with an alliterative ring. Originally, Coca-Cola contained cocaine, which came from the leaves of the coca plant; a second key ingredient was caffeine, which came from extracts of kola nuts. During the early part of the twentieth century, the Coca-Cola company removed all traces of cocaine from the drink; however, caffeine remains a major ingredient today. In June, 1887, the ornate handwriting used in the drink’s logo was introduced.

Coca-Cola was not the first carbonated drink. Ten years earlier, Charles Hires had begun to market Hires Root Beer, made from a solid concentrate of sixteen wild roots and berries. In 1885, Charles Alderton had created Dr. Pepper as a cherry soda-fountain drink. What made Coca-Cola different was the marketing of the product, which over time resulted in Coca-Cola becoming the most recognized name in the world and an emblem of the “good life” in America.

Coca-Cola was originally sold in soda fountains, which were social centers within drugstores in the 1870’s and 1880’s. These soda fountains were most popular in the South, especially in Atlanta Atlanta, Georgia;Coca-Cola . At first, Robinson Robinson, Frank M. promoted Coca-Cola both as a medicine which could cure headaches and depression and as a soda-fountain drink. The first advertisement for Coca-Cola appeared in the Atlanta Journal in May, 1886. The ad described Coca-Cola as “Delicious! Refreshing! Exhilarating! Invigorating!” Other media used to market Coca-Cola in its first year included oilcloth signs, streetcar signs, posters, and thousands of coupons for free sample drinks. The first point-of-purchase advertising was placed on the awning of Jacob’s Pharmacy. It had red lettering on a white background saying “Drink Coca-Cola, 5 cents.” Within a year, similar signs appeared at fourteen soda fountains in Atlanta. At the same time, thousands of posters were being distributed and signs appeared on every streetcar in Atlanta.

Early advertisement for Coca-Cola.

(Library of Congress)

In 1887, the Coca-Cola Company was incorporated with Atlanta businessman Asa Candler as one of the partners. Over the course of the next three years, Pemberton sold the company to Candler for approximately twenty-three hundred dollars. Candler became the company’s first president and was the first person to bring a real vision to the business. Within a few years he was sole proprietor, specializing in marketing. He transformed Coca-Cola from an insignificant tonic into a hugely profitable business by using brilliant and innovative advertising techniques.

Pemberton continued to promote Coca-Cola as a fountain drink and a medicine. He asserted that the best physicians recommended it for mental and physical exhaustion, headache, fatigue, and mental depression. Sales of the syrup used to make the drink grew rapidly. In 1889, 2,171 gallons of syrup (which pproduced 61,000 drinks) were sold. In 1890, 8,855 gallons were sold. By 1895, sales totaled 76,244 gallons. The key to this meteoric growth was Candler’s ingenious marketing: The attractive Coca-Cola logo could be found in point-of-purchase signs, calendars, clocks, fans, urns, scales, cabinets, cases, bookmarks, glass plates, and newspaper ads. Early ads primarily targeted businessmen, but by 1895 advertising had shifted to the masses with ads that simply stated “Drink Coca-Cola, Delicious and Refreshing.”

Candler also marketed his product by having the company’s employees and sales representatives distribute complimentary coupons for Coca-Cola. Coupons were mailed directly to potential customers and placed in magazines. The company gave soda fountains free syrup to cover the costs of the free drinks. It is estimated that between 1894 and 1913 one in nine Americans had received a free Coca-Cola, for a total of 8,500,000 free drinks. By 1895, Candler was announcing to his shareholders that Coca-Cola was served in every state in the United States.

In the second half of the decade, Coca-Cola expanded along with the nation, as branch offices and syrup factories were opened in Dallas (1894), Chicago (1895), Los Angeles Los Angeles (1895), and Philadelphia (1897). The popularity of Coca-Cola resulted in the company’s building a three-story headquarters, constructed in 1898—the first facility devoted exclusively to the manufacture of Coca-Cola syrup and the management of the business. Large-scale bottling of Coca-Cola began in 1899, when Candler signed an exclusive contract with Benjamin F. Thomas Thomas, Benjamin Franklin and Joseph B. Whitehead Whitehead, Joseph B. of Chattanooga, Tennessee, to open the first bottling plant there. In that year, Coca-Cola sold an estimated thirty-six million drinks. The second bottling plant opened in Atlanta in 1900. Within twenty years, there were more than one thousand bottling plants, 95 percent of which were locally owned and operated.


The growth of the Coca-Cola Company mirrors the development of American capitalism in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. The developers of this most famous and profitable soft drink company identified a market in the nation’s growing urban population, offering a brief respite for persons subjected to the new, fast pace of life. The company developed innovative advertising techniques that were instrumental in developing product recognition and acceptance in American society. These techniques were soon used by other companies. Coca-Cola also capitalized on new technologies that allowed it to bottle and distribute its product. Finally, the company took advantage of America’s emerging interstate transportation system, the railroads, to market and distribute its product nationwide. Its success during the nineteenth century continued in the twentieth century: Coca-Cola became an international product recognized and available throughout the world.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Allen, Frederick L. Secret Formula: How Brilliant Marketing and Relentless Salesmanship Made Coca-Cola the Best Known Product in the World. New York: HarperCollins, 1995. A comprehensive history of Coca-Cola from its inception to the modern era by an award-winning reporter.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hays, Constance L. The Real Thing: Truth and Power of the Coca-Cola Company. New York: Random House, 2004. A investigative study of Coca-Cola in the modern era of global businesses.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Pendergrast, Mark. For God, Country, and Coca-Cola: The Definitive History of the Great American Soft Drink and the Company That Makes It. 2d ed. New York: Basic Books, 2000. A detailed history of Coca-Cola as a metaphor for the growth of modern capitalism.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Witzel, Gyuel Young, and Michael Karl Witzel. The Sparkling Story of Coca-Cola. Stillwater, Minn.: Voyager Press, 2002. A history of Coca-Cola that includes text, vintage photographs, and information on collectibles.

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Related Article in <i>Great Lives from History: The Nineteenth Century, 1801-1900</i>

Lydia E. Pinkham. Pemberton, John Stith Coca-Cola[Coca Cola] Inventions;Coca-Cola[Coca Cola] Candler, Asa G. Georgia;Coca-Cola[Coca Cola]

Categories: History