Food history: Coca-Cola

Coca-Cola: It’s the most recognized brand name in the world. Let us check out at least a smidgen of the quite extensive history of Coca-Cola.

We’re going to be dividing the history of classic Coke into five sections:

  • Basic history
  • The bottle
  • Advertising
  • Drugs, Alcohol, and Racism
  • Santa


Basic history

The official inventor of the quintessential drink was named Dr. John S. Pemberton, an Atlanta pharmacist. Interestingly, he was also a soldier in the confederate Army.

After suffering a serious injury in war, Pemberton developed an addiction to morphine. As a pharmacist, he attempted to find a cure for his ailment, and experimented with coca and coca wines. Eventually, his famous Coca-Cola mixture was created.

The first marketing efforts included giving away free samples, and people just adored this new carbonated drink. Over the decades, there followed lots of experimentation with different slogans and campaigns.

Prior to Pemberton’s death, he sold parts of the company to various organizations who helped to expand upon the soft drink’s popularity.

 The bottle

Much emphasis was put on the Coca-Cola bottle, in order to ensure it stood out from its competitors. Today, many of the older bottles are considered collector’s items.

Although sold originally in soda fountains, in 1889 Benjamin F. Thomas, Joseph B. Whitehead, and later on John T. Lupton – all of Chattanooga, Tennessee – started building a business around bottling Coca-Cola.

They successfully obtained exclusive rights to bottle the soft drink across the majority of the country. A few years later, bottling rights expanded and were sold to other companies as well.

The super iconic contour coke bottle was designed in 1916. This bottle was so special and important, it became one of the few packages ever allowed a trademark status by the US Patent Office.

In the 1950s and early 1960s different sized bottles were introduced to the lineup, in addition to cans.

Also, Coca-Cola is credited for inventing “the six pack,” now used with many beverages.


From the beginning, advertising was a huge part of marketing Coca-Cola. Clearly, seemingly everything is advertised – beverages, restaurants, toys, clothes – anything and everything. But Coca-Cola really did, and still does, go above and beyond with their ads.

The catchphrases and marketing efforts were consistently changing. A few of the classic slogans over the years include: “Red, white, and you,” “Catch the wave,” “The pause that refreshes,” “You can’t beat the real thing,” “The best friend thirst ever had,” “I’d like to buy the world a coke,” “Open happiness,” and many more.

Among of course, many other advertisements, Norman Rockwell himself created art for the Coca-Cola ads.

The first television advertisement for coke was in 1950, and the polar bear ads began appearing in 1993.

On a personal note, although they’re certainly cute, I’ve never understood the whole polar bear drinking Coca-Cola thing, but no one can deny it’s an insanely popular marketing technique.

There was one marketing attempt – if you can call it a marketing attempt – that was not successful. In the 1980s, for the first time in nearly 100 years, Coca-Cola changed its initial top secret concoction. They did so to compete with the increasingly popular Pepsi.

The change was a disaster, Coke fans revolted, and they reverted to the former formula.

However, I do not want to go into that too much, because I want to save the Coke/Pepsi face off for what will surely be an intriguing Difference Between post in the future.

Drugs, alcohol, and racism

The rumors are true: Coca-Cola did originally have cocaine in it. It was marketed as a cure to many ailments, including a low sexual libido.

Remember, Dr. Pemberton, the inventor, was at least in part searching for a cure for his war injuries with his soft drink, and something that could replace the highly addictive morphine. Lo and behold, cocaine is incredibly addictive as well.

Although the coke in Coke is fairly well known today, many may be surprised to find out that it also consisted of alcohol.

Prohibition put an end to alcohol in Coca-Cola. Although the cocaine was removed in 1903, the drug itself remained legal until 1914.

Finally, there were also racial issues surrounding Coca-Cola in the beginning. Before bottled Coke, the soft drink was enjoyed at soda fountains, which were segregated; minorities were not allowed access.

More recently, and more strangely, their latest Super Bowl ad with different nationalities singing “American the Beautiful” was somehow deemed racist.


On a happier note, Coca-Cola has been instrumental in forming the image of Santa Claus as we know him to be today.

Santa Coke ads started as early as the 1920s. Prior Santa interpretations ranged from a “tall gaunt man to a spooky-looking elf.”

Archie Lee, the D’Arcy Advertising Agency representative working with the Coke company, wanted to highlight a wholesome and symbolic Santa Claus. In addition to being jolly and pleasantly plump, it was important that this image of Santa was the Santa, not someone dressed up as Santa.

Indeed, Coca-Cola’s idea of Santa is now synonymous with the image the rest of us have of him in our minds.

With the exception of a couple of blips over the years, Coca-Cola has been, and will likely continue to be, one of the most successful brands ever.

4 thoughts on “Food history: Coca-Cola

  1. I like how you gloss over it by saying
    “commercial with -America the Beautiful- being sung by different nationalities was SOMEHOW deemed racist”,
    when you know that ppl we’re offended bc it was sung in different languages. Most ppl didn’t even mention nationalities. And the commercial wasn’t deemed racist in any way! If anything it was considered too non racist, pointing out that most ppl who live here but only know their own language, actually hate it here, don’t contribute to, & only take from, in hopes of getting back to their country. Now I can’t say I agree with any of that, but I thought the whole situation should be explained accurately. You should’ve just said “…deemed OFFENSIVE” with the exact same link attached to it. It would’ve been perfect then. Personally, I don’t offend so easily. And I doubt 99.5% of the offended ppl even remembered the whole thing in a week.

    1. I said “somehow” deemed racist and linked to the article without expanding more for two reasons: 1, the “somehow” implies that some people found it racist/offensive, and some people did not, which is true. And 2, Coca Cola has such an expansive, massive history it was virtually impossible to include all of it in one blog post, so I had to shorten some things – not to gloss over them, but to prevent this post from being a novel – linking elsewhere if people wanted to read more on that particular aspect.

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