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It’s the Real Thing: Coca-Cola on Mad Men and In the Library’s Collections

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This blog post does not reveal specifics about the Mad Men finale, but does discuss an aspect of the finale – keep this information in mind if you are waiting to watch it!

An old, painted Coca-Cola sign on the side of a building in the town of Grand Saline in Van Zandt County, Texas. Prints & Photgraphs Division, Library of Congress. Call number  LC-DIG-highsm- 29060.
An old, painted Coca-Cola sign on the side of a building in the town of Grand Saline in Van Zandt County, Texas. The Lyda Hill Texas Collection of Photographs in Carol M. Highsmith’s America Project, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

Even if you haven’t seen the series finale of Mad Men that aired this past Sunday night, you’ve likely read or heard in the media that the famous 1971 Coca-Cola hill-top ad makes a meaningful appearance at the end of the episode. Without giving away specifics, it seemed to me like a perfect ending to the story – the commercial juxtaposes cultural understanding and spiritual uplift with commercialism, just as Mad Men muddies our understanding of its characters’ personal growth with the pressures of a world domineered by and directly responding to the commercial industry. In truth, seeing the ad and hearing that opening phrase, “I’d like to teach the world to sing,” made me strangely emotional! But, I must admit, the song holds a history for me that links directly to the Library of Congress and its acquisition of the Coca-Cola Television Advertisements in 2000.

In 2000, I was 16 years old and singing with a Washington, DC children’s chorus that was invited to perform in the Library’s Jefferson Building at a special event celebrating the newly acquired Coca-Cola Company archival materials. This was my first step inside the Library of Congress, totally naïve and unaware that I’d eventually make my career at this amazing institution. We lined the stairs leading up to the Great Hall and performed a medley of Coke jingles spanning the company’s history, of course highlighting the famous “I’d like to teach the world to sing.” This was a huge departure from our typical classical music repertoire, so the experience stands out in my mind. So, Matthew Weiner, you got this Mad Men fan extra good – not only does the song and the ad suggest a purity in its message (albeit, for the purpose of selling soda), but it captures a personal memory that represents the real beginnings of my connection to the Library of Congress.

You can read more about the Coca-Cola advertisement archival materials in the Library’s collections on our Fifty Years of Coca-Cola Television Advertisements: Highlights from the Motion Picture Archives at the Library of Congress online presentation. The presentation includes specific information about the 1971 hill-top ad, and you can even watch the ad here. The Music Division also holds numerous scores documenting the history of Coca-Cola jingles, from the sheet music and choral arrangements of “I’d like to teach the world to sing (in perfect harmony),” to the lead sheet for Jodi Bancino’s 1975 “Coca Cola Commercial” jingle deposited for copyright, to a manuscript copy of an orchestral arrangement of Leonard W. Jay’s 1944 “Coca Cola Theme Song.”

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