May 8 is a bit of a red letter day—literally. 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. After Chandler the company was sold to a group of investors including Ernest Woodruff who brought in his son Robert Woodruff who ran the company for many years. It was under his leadership that the company began to bottle Coca-Cola, cocaine was removed as an ingredient, and Monsanto began to supply the caffeine that was used in Coca-Cola. 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 for decades been very well known for its advertising and marketing, which is reflected in the market for Coca-Cola collectibles. Older advertising and news articles are great resources for Coca-Cola's history, like the short piece about a Coca-Cola v Chero-cola “rivalry” from the the January 26, 1916 Brunswick News.
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