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Nighttime photograph with the the lit World of Coca-Cola ligt with colored lights
View of the World of Coca-Cola in Atlanta, GA. Carol M. Highsmith, 2017.

How About an Ice Cold Beverage?

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ATLANTA! What of Atlanta? Why, th egreat nerve tonic, Pemberton's Wine Coca, is manufacured there, and all druggists, wholesale and retail, in Memphis, sell this great remedy. It is now prescribed by the best physicians, and will cure you of all nervous affections. Send to Pemberton Chemical COmpany for history of coca plant. Try a glass of Coca Cola, the refreshing, invigorating brain tonic, at Heister's Soda Fount.
The Memphis Appeal. 24 June 1887. sn84024448/1887-06-24/ed-1/seq-3/

Some may not know it, but May 8 is a bit of a red letter day — literally.  Back on May 8, 1886, the world’s first Coca-Cola was served at Jacobs’ Pharmacy in Atlanta, Georgia. It was the creation of Dr. John Pemberton as a tonic for common ailments. He likely had no idea what was in store for his product, the company, and an industry that would grow into the giant it is today.

Coca-Cola wasn’t his first beverage invention.  In 1885, he introduced Pemberton’s French Wine Coca, an alcoholic beverage billed as a nerve tonic and cure for headaches, inspired by Vin Mariani. However, not long after he introduced the product, the county passed a Prohibition bill and he needed to develop a non-alcoholic version. He came up with the precursor to Coca-Cola, which was the beverage served that day in May.

FRENCH WINE COCA Strengthens and Exhilarates. Sustains and refreshes, aids digestion, imparts new energies to the worn or exhausted mind and body, and excites every faculty to healthy action. COCA. Is a wonderful invigorator of the genital organs and is a specific for all nervous complaints, such as sick-headache, neuralgia, wakefulness, loss of memory, nervous tremors, loss of appetitive, depression of spirits, etc. Pemberton’s Wine Coca. Will vitalize your blood and build up your health at once. Lawyers, Minister, Teachers, Orators, Vocalists, and all who speak in public will find the Wine Coca, taken half hour before speaking, a specific for the voice. WINE COCA is endorsed by over 20,000 eminent Medical Men in the world, and Pemberton’s Wine Coca is awarded the palm over all other invigorants by physicians and people who have used it. THRE IS HEALTH AND JOY IN EVERY BOTTLE. FOR SALE BY ALL DRUGGISTS. J.S. PEMBERTON & CO., Sole Proprietors and Manufacturers, ATLANTA, GA.
Orange County Observer. 20 June 1885.

The Pemberton Chemical Company, later renamed Coca-Cola, was established to market and sell the product.  When it was first sold, Coca-Cola was in syrup form and mixed on premise; the bottling came later. It sold slowly at first, and unfortunately, Pemberton died in 1888 before he could see his creation really take off.

image features a woman in period dress with a big hat with two feathers wearing gloves and holding a glass filled with Coca Cola the sign in front says "Drink Coca-Cola 5 cents" and there is a vase of 3 roses along the right side of the frame a handwritten note in the foreground says Home Office The Coca Cola Co. Atlanta, GA Branches: Chicago, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Dallas
Coca-Cola advertisement from the 1890’s. 2004671509/

After Pemberton died, Asa G. Candler took control of the company and ran it until 1916.  It was under his leadership that the company began to bottle Coca-Cola and cocaine was removed as an ingredient. Later years brought other changes, including the introduction of cans in 1955 and the acquisition of other beverage brands like Dasani, Sprite, and Fanta.

One thing has been constant – the company has for decades been very well known for its advertising and marketing, which is reflected in the market for Coca-Cola collectibles. For those interested in the older advertising and news, Chronicling America is a great resource. You can search on coca cola, wine coca, Asa G Candler, or even rival products. While I did not see much when I searched on the biggest of its current competitors, Pepsi-Cola (founded by Caleb Bradham), I did find a short piece about a Coca-Cola v Chero-cola “rivalry.”

bottling plant at the corner of a city block with telephone wires criss crossing the sky and the CocaCola sign on top of the building
Coca Cola Bottling Company, view from left, 14th & Central Avenue, Los Angeles, CA. John Margolies, 1977

Anyone researching a company should first go to the company’s website. Those that are large public companies will make some information available in either the About Us or Investor Relations part of their website. For those interested in doing more research, we have guides on company and industry research.

If you are interested in images, search the Library’s web page. A search on coca cola will produce a number of images of a bottling plant in Los Angeles, a few advertisements, and other images of the iconic brand. Of course, you may also want to search soft drinks, Pepsi, ginger ale, root beer, and other beverages.

Lastly, there is no shortage of items in the Library’s collection that would be helpful for a researcher. Beyond those related to the company and its history, there are also items related to the broader industry. This is just a ‘taste’ of what is in our collection:

Photograph features two men one seated and drinking the other just standing next to him with his hands in his pockets and a cigar in his mouth
Boys in soft drink parlor. Central City, KY. John Vachon, 1940.


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