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This Month in Business History

World’s First Coca-Cola was Served

Carol Highsmith, photographer. View of the World of Coca-Cola in Atlanta, the capital city of the southern U.S. state of Georgia and the state's largest city. 2017. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Some may not know it, but May 8 is a bit of a red letter day—literally given how the color red has become associated with the company. 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 been very well known for its advertising and marketing, which is reflected in the market for Coca-Cola collectibles.

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