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Coca-Cola | Public Domain/Pixabay
Coca-Cola | Public Domain/Pixabay

A Brief History Of Coca-Cola, America's Most Famous Export

Picture of Alexia Wulff
Updated: 7 September 2016
Coca-Cola is more than just a soft drink; this nineteenth-century-born soda has made its way from a small-time soda fountain to becoming America’s most iconic refreshment. Coca-Cola, or Coke as we all know it, has a long history: from its inception in 1886, Coca-Cola’s ever-changing story has passed through many decades, adapting to the times of the roaring 1920s, the disco era of the 1970s, and finally to technology-centered modern day. But despite the innumerable advertisement campaigns and slogans, Coca-Cola has held true to its origins of fun, happiness, and enjoying the simple pleasures in life.

In 1886, Dr. John S. Pemberton, a pharmacist from Atlanta, returned from the Civil War with hopes of inventing something that would bring him success. Because Pemberton’s previous experiments with medicines had been largely unsuccessful, he opted for a different angle; he decided to make his own soda fountain syrup. After stirring up his distinctly flavored, caramel-colored syrup, Pemberton headed to his neighborhood pharmacy, Jacob’s Pharmacy, where it was mixed with carbonated water. There, the drink was sampled by customers who agreed that it was something special. Jacob’s Pharmacy began selling the drink for five cents a glass; shortly after, it was named Coca-Cola by Pemberton’s partner, Frank Robinson, who also helped to develop the classic red-and-white script that is still used today.

This is claimed to be the first-ever installation of the 1948 model, ‘boat motor’ styled Coca-Cola soda dispenser, shown in Fleeman’s Pharmacy, Atlanta, Georgia
This is claimed to be the first-ever installation of the 1948 model, ‘boat motor’ styled Coca-Cola soda dispenser, shown in Fleeman’s Pharmacy, Atlanta, Georgia | © Richard Warren Lipack/Wikicommons

During the first year, Coca-Cola was not as successful as Pemberton had hoped; despite advertising campaigns in newspapers and coupons for free samples, only nine glasses of Coke were consumed each day. In 1888, just before his death, Pemberton sold Coca-Cola to Asa Chandler; Chandler, an avid businessman, expanded, selling Coca-Cola to cities outside Atlanta. In 1894, a Mississippi soda fountain owner was interested in making Coca-Cola portable, installing a bottling machine behind his soda fountain and bottling Coke for the very first time. In 1899, exclusive rights to bottle and sell Coca-Cola were sold to three men from Tennessee, and by 1916, over 1,000 plants were bottling Coke. This same year, the bottlers decided on a unique bottle design that would distinguish Coca-Cola from the competition and make it recognizable to consumers worldwide. This signature contoured bottle is still used today, and has served as inspiration for artists from all over the world, with many on exhibit at the World of Coca-Cola in Atlanta.