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.
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.
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.”
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:
- Soda poppery : the history of soft drinks in America : with recipes for making & using soft drinks plus easy science experiments by Stephen N. Tchudi
- Soda pop; the history, advertising, art, and memorabilia of soft drinks in America by Lawrence Dietz
- Secret formula : how brilliant marketing and relentless salesmanship made Coca-Cola the best-known product in the world by Frederick Allen
- Soft drinks, mineral water, fruit juice and packaging in Europe / Frost & Sullivan (1990)
- American Soft Drink Journal
- Growth and economic status of the bottled soft drink industry, 1957; a statistical summary
- Developments in soft drinks technology / edited by L. F. Green
- Pop culture : stories from Pepsi-Cola’s first 100 years by Legs McNeil
- Soft drink bottlers of the United States by Dennis G. Fewless, Christopher A. Weide
Do you want more stories like this? Subscribe to Inside Adams — it’s free!