Hi everyone , Brecht here.
Today we’re going to talk a bit about something all of us know – coke. Coca-Cola, I mean.
Yep, it doesn’t get much more basic and widespread than the well-known brown sugary carbonated drink we all drink basically every week.
But where does this fizzy liquid of goodness come from anyway? Well, buckle up because we’re going to travel way back to the 1860s. And as you’ll see, the habit of using the word ‘coke’ for both drugs and as for the world-famous drink isn’t far-fetched.
You see, back in the times of the American Civil War, the most efficient way to ease pain for wounded soldiers used to be morphine. It was basically the go-to anesthetic, both during surgeries as for recoveries. Of course, an opiate like morphine is bound to be highly addictive. And yes, drugs aren’t just a problem of the modern times. The late 1860s was rife with a plague of drug addiction and everything that comes with it.
Enter Colonel John Stith Pemberton (Stith is not a typo, I assure you), born and raised in Georgia. Ol’ Johnny was an officer in the Confederate army during the Civil War, who ended up in the hospital with a sabre slash wound across his chest. And, what did I tell you, he walked out as a morphine addict. Now as luck would have it, Pemberton was a pharmacist in his civilian life, and as soon as the war ended (with the side John had fought for losing) he set out to brew himself his very own detox and rehab potion. His goal was to find a painkiller that did not use opium in it. And in 1866 he brought out his very first brew, named Dr. Tuggle’s Compound Syrup of Globe Flower.
Try ordering that in a bar.
Old Pemberton however, was still not satisfied. Venturing forth in his quest to create a non-opiate painkiller, he found the perfect replacement fort his dangerous drug… in cocaine and alcohol. I’m not even kidding, that is literally what he went for.
A so-called “coca wine”, containing African kola nut, South American coca leaves and of course some good ol’ fashioned hooch. Pemberton’s French Wine Coca was a big hit in Georgia, and was advertised as an alternative for morphine and hard liquor, especially for the Southern ladies who felt stressed out and needed some help relaxing.
For the next twenty years, French Coca Wine was the name of the game. Until, in 1886, the county government decided to strictly limit and curb the sale and consumption of alcohol. Coca wine, even if sold medicinally, was no longer the best way to go. So our pal Pemberton, together with fellow pharmacist Willis Venable, set out once again to find a non-alcoholic version of his famed drink.
And so it was, that Coca-Cola first hit the market on the 8th of May, 1886. Without alcohol this time, and boosted by the fizziness of carbonated water and an extensive amount of sugar.
And yes, still with a load of cocaine hidden within its brown-blackish deliciousness.
According to Pemberton, Coca-Cola was the perfect cure for all sorts of afflictions, such as morphine addiction, headaches, dyspepsia, neurasthenia, and even impotence. How efficient it was to counter morphine addiction, we may never know as John Pemberton passed away only two years later, still addicted to morphine and suffering from stomach cancer.
His son Charley was now destined to continue the family company. But Charles never seem to have believed much in his father’s concoctions, and sold all the stocks the Pemberton family still had in the company only two weeks later, for a total sum of 300 dollars.
Bet that didn’t come back and bite the family in the butt later, huh?
Asa Candler (interesting first name there) was the sly fox who had bought out young Pemberton’s stake in the company, and now acquired basically the full ownership of the production and sales of Coca-Cola. He wasted no time in promoting his drink: coupons for a glass of free coke spread like wildfire, and soon Coca-Cola became a household name. Enough for Candler to incorporate his business into the Coca-Cola Company in 1892. Perhaps the cocaine played a part in the popularity of the drink, though.
By 1916, he had assembled enough money to succesfully run for mayor of the city of Atlanta, and in 1919 he sold the ownership of the company for a total of 25 million dollars. Not a bad profit margin, there.
So yeah, that is the ancient history of the legendary Coca-Cola. A refreshing beverage enjoyed by people in over 200 countries in the world, in doses of about 1.8 billion consumptions. Every. Single. Day.
Oh, and regarding the coke in Coke? Don’t worry about that. In 1904, the Coca-Cola Company discontinued the use of the drug in its beverages. Fun fact: there is one single factory in all of the United States that has a special permit fort he import of coca leaves, which is otherwise forbidden by the DEA. The Stepan Company Plant in New Jersey processes coca leaves into two products: medicinal cocaine for use in specialised hospitals, and, you’ve guessed it, leftover, “non-cocained” coca leaves for the Coca-Cola factories.
So no, don’t worry about cocaine in your refreshing beverage. Except for the massive amounts of sugar and caffeine you are ingesting into your body, and an acidity level high enough to be used as a detergent, Coca-Cola is totally healthy to drink. Right.