When Coca-Cola inventor John Pemberton died of stomach cancer in 1888, he was broke and in the throes of morphine addiction. His heir and only son, Charles, died six years later also as a morphine addict.
John Pemberton's addiction to morphine started after his involvement in the American Civil War. Were it not for this addiction, Coca-Cola would never have been invented.
As popular as this drink is in the world today, few people know about Coca-Cola inventor John Pemberton. Here's everything you should know about the extraordinary yet tragic life of the Pembertons.
The Early Life Of Coca-Cola inventor John Pemberton
John Pemberton was born on January 8, 1831, in Knoxville, Georgia. He went to Reform Medical College in Georgia, Macon, where he studied medicine and pharmacy.
When he was 19 years old, he got a license to practice Thomsonian, which focused on cleansing patients of toxins. The field had little respect among the public.
Pemberton established himself as an authority in medical chemistry. His dream was to improve medicine, industry practices, and solutions.
In 1853, he started a wholesale-retail business in Columbus and married Ann Eliza Clifford Lewis, a Wesleyan College student. In 1854, their son Charles Ney Pemberton was born.
John opened his business in 1860. It was equipped with the most advanced supplies at the time, some made by his company.
Pemberton's labs are still in use today, although it has been over a century since his death. He helped achieve the elimination of bootleg chemicals through his labs, which had employees he had hired himself.
Coca-Cola Inventor John Pemberton And The Civil War
The Civil War started in the 1860s, shortly after Pemberton got his graduate degree in pharmacy.
Pemberton decided to join the Civil War in May 1962. He was made the first lieutenant, and his efforts in defending the city of Columbus earned him the title of lieutenant colonel.
He almost died in 1865 when he was in the direct line of fire.
Pemberton was injured by both a gun and a sword during the war. It turned him to morphine, which he used to handle his pain. Eventually, he got addicted to the drug.
After the war, he formed a partnership with Austin Walker, a physician from Columbus, and he made his lab bigger. Together, they created Sweet Southern Bouquet perfume, which was a success.
Coca-Cola Inventor John Pemberton's Morphine Addiction
Pemberton knew he was heading down a dangerous path with his morphine addiction and was determined to rid himself of the problem.
Someone suggested that cocaine might help him get off morphine. This inspired him to come up with Pemberton's French Wine Coca in 1885.
Pemberton marketed the drink as a nerve tonic, headache remedy, and mental aid. He also promoted it as a treatment for morphine addiction. Despite its cure-all reputation, the drink was quite a success.
More importantly, this drink eventually evolved into the famous Coca-Cola the world loves today.
At the time, Pemberton's creation contained alcohol and cocaine, but in quantities that could not be addictive. The beverage was made using coca leaves from South America.
Pemberton started serving the drink to his clients, and they seemed to like it. When he realized his love for the beverage was growing, he started getting rid of the medicinal properties and focused on making a refreshing beverage.
Pemberton claimed that his drink was based on an Italian-French beverage known as Vin Mariani, which also had coca leaves. His drink was different from Vin Mariani since it had other extracts, like kola nuts and damiana shrub leaves from Central America.
Prohibition Forced Pemberton To Do Further Modifications On His Invention
In 1886, there were rumors that an alcohol prohibition was about to go into effect. Coca-Cola inventor John Pemberton was afraid that his drink would get banned since it contained alcohol.
The prohibition law came into force the same year. Though his beverage was not banned, Pemberton changed its name from Pemberton's French Wine Coca to Coca-Cola, a new alcohol-free drink.
The name Coca-Cola was suggested by his bookkeeper, Frank Robinson. Robinson thought it would be more striking to spell kola as cola since that would give the company's name two Cs. He also designed the logo.
The logo has never changed to this day.
Initially, the drink was too sweet, which Pemberton learned when he sent the drink to pharmacies around Atlanta and asked for customer feedback. He decided to add citric acid to reduce the intense sweetness.
In May 1886, Coca-Cola inventor John Pemberton created the final version of the drink, which was sold as a syrup that would be mixed with water at the store and given to customers to drink. At the time, Coca-Cola was only sold in pharmacies.
Coca-Cola Was Initially A Big Failure
After eight years, Coca-Cola inventor John Pemberton changed his business in a big way. He took his invention to a nearby pharmacy for tasting. It was mixed with carbonated water to create a soda.
From there, he decided to bottle his drink and do away with go-betweens.
The drink was marketed by Pemberton Chemical Company. His son Charles was in charge of production.
In its first year, Coca-Cola made $50 in sales against an investment of $70. The company sold an average of about nine drinks every day.
Coca-Cola inventor John Pemberton considered his venture a failure, but Robinson convinced him that there was still an opportunity to turn things around.
A lot more resources were devoted to marketing the product. That included offering free drink coupons, banners, and store awnings with "Drink Coca-Cola" written on them.
It did not take long for the drink to have a ready market in Atlanta, and Coca-Cola inventor John Pemberton was finally starting to believe that the drink had a future in the rest of the country.
Coca-Cola inventor John Pemberton Started Selling Off His Company
Coca-Cola inventor John Pemberton did not live long enough to see this dream come true due to his stomach cancer diagnosis. He started selling off his company to sustain his morphine addiction and his family until he only had a third of it left, which he left for his son Charles.
Even as Pemberton was fighting for his life, he was still trying to make the drink better in his lab.
Shortly before he died in 1888, at the age of 57, Pemberton had sold rights to Coca-Cola for $1,750. He had already sold the formula for the drink to Asa Candler for $2,300 at this point.
On the day Coca-Cola inventor John Pemberton died, no Coca-Cola drinks were sold in Atlanta. He was transported to his hometown on a train, and many people went to pay him their respects.
Once Pemberton was gone, his son Charles was embroiled in fights with other investors. At the time, Charles was dealing with serious morphine addiction while his mother was struggling financially.
In the 1890s, Asa Candler had control of the company after several calculated transactions. Candler put Robinson, Pemberton's former bookkeeper, in charge of advertising.
Therefore, the future of Coca-Cola inventor John Pemberton's family looked bleak at best.
In the end, Charles sold the share his father left him to Candler. When Charles died in 1894, he was broke and had opium at his side. Coca-Cola inventor John Pemberton's wife spent the rest of her life as a pauper even as the company flourished.
The company started selling Coca-Cola in bottles through licensing agreements while also selling the syrup to other bottling companies.
Changes To Pemberton's Iconic Invention After His Death
Coca-Cola continued to change after Pemberton passed away. In 1905, fresh coca leaves were no longer used for making the drink. Candler also introduced several fruit flavors.
By the 1930s, Coca-Cola was a national brand. Until the 1960s, the drink was enjoyed in both cities and small towns, and it was dispensed at soda fountains and ice cream saloons. The fountain grew out of favor as bottled soft drinks, commercial ice cream, and fast-food restaurants grew in popularity.
Today, the soda still has coca leaves, but with the cocaine extracted out of them before they are added to the drink.
At the moment, Coca-Cola is the second most-consumed drink globally, after water. The company is a publicly-traded Fortune 500 company that earns tens of billions of dollars in annual revenue.
That is quite impressive for a company that made a miserable $50 in its first year of operation.
It is hard to imagine a world without Coca-Cola today, as it has become the most popular soft drink in history. Over 1 billion drinks of the company are consumed every day.
Coca-Cola inventor John Pemberton is remembered as a businessman, a war veteran, and most notably, the man who invented one of the most popular beverages in the world to this day.