Jonathan Salem Baskin

Profitable Fizz

Today, fizz got a purpose.

John Pemberton was 33 when he was wounded fighting for the Confederacy in the last battle of the American Civil War (the Battle of Columbus, Georgia). Thereafter, he and many other veterans were addicted to morphine for pain but, being a druggist, he came up with an alternative medicine. Named Pemberton’s French Wine Coca, it was marketed as a cure for everything from pain to nervousness, constipation, impotence, and an affliction known as neurasthenia, which was the feeling of general discomfort with the effects of urbanization. It also included a hefty dose of wine (it was based on a popular beverage called Vin Mariani), which acted as a solvent to extract cocaine from the coca leaves in the mixture. Queen Victoria and Thomas Edison were heavy Vin Mariani drinkers.

Only a year later, the authorities in the Georgia county in which Pemberton lived passed legislation severely limiting alcoholic beverage sales, so he set out to create a non-alcoholic version of his tonic. He experimented using large copper pots in the backyard of his home and, on this day in 1886, came up with his first batch of what later would be called Coca-Cola. A friend invented the name and script lettering for the logo (as another was his lab partner in a development process that could only charitably be called trial and error). Asa Candler, a local drugstore owner in Atlanta, bought the recipe for Coca-Cola from Pemberton in 1897 for $2,300, and rolled it out as a medicine sold via soda fountains (it was believed that carbonated water was good for your health). Pemberton, not quite cured of his own drug addiction, would go on to re-sell the recipe to two other buyers, though their efforts would go nowhere. Candler would make millions on the deal, and eventually become mayor of Atlanta. Coke wouldn’t be sold in bottles until 1894, at which time it was marketed less as a medicine, and more of a refreshing drink.

Innovation might happen collaboratively, but its application can change, and it’s usually funded by secrets.

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