John Pemberton – Biography of the Iconic Soft Drink “Coca-Cola” Creator

Today, Coca-Cola is considered to be the most famous carbonated soft drink in the world. Coca-Cola remains the drink of choice for billions of people, and it is hard to imagine life without it. Have you ever wondered who managed to create such an iconic drink that rules the world? We have to thank John Pemberton for gifting us Coca-cola.

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John Pemberton - Biography of the Iconic Soft Drink “Coca-Cola” Creator

Early Life & Childhood

John Pemberton was born on January 8, 1831. His birth city is Knoxville. However, he grew up in Rome, Georgia, and attended school there. His mother was Martha L. Gant, and his father was James C. Pemberton. By the time of his birth, the family had been living there for almost thirty years. He had English roots. His ancestors traveled from Lancashire with the ship and ended up settling in Buck County, Pennsylvania. 

He started studying at the Reform Medical College of Georgia in 1850. By that time, he was 19 years old. He learned medicine there and eventually earned his well-deserved medical degree. He was licensed and could practice herbal remedies and purify body toxins. He was head to toe in love with chemistry and was very talented, He started to practice medicine and did several surgeries. In 1855, he decided to open a drug store in Columbus. The drug store was a wholesale retail establishment that primarily sold substances used in medical remedies.

Ann Eliza Clifford Lewis was the wife of John Pemberton. She was from Columbus, Georgia, and they got married in 1853. By that time, he was just 22 years old. They had a child in 1854 and named him Charles Nay Pemberton. Charles was John’s only child. John and his family lived in a Victorian cottage, called Pemberton House. In 1971, the house was added to the National Register of Historic Places. 

John Pemberton served in the American Civil War and was in the Third Cavalry Battalion of the Georgia State Guard. The battalion belonged to the Confederate army. In the army, John managed to gain the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. While in the army, he fought in the Battle of Columbus. He got wounded in the battle of 1865. From this wound, he got addicted to morphine. Eventually, his addiction led him to do different kinds of experiments on painkillers and toxins. As a result of these experiments, he received the recipe that changed the lives of billions of people.

John Pemberton’s First Inventions

As we already mentioned, in 1865, John Pemberton got wounded in the chest during the battle. To endure the pain, he started using morphine. In 1866, he actively started experiments on painkillers to create an alternative. The first “painkiller” that he created was “Dr. Tuggles’ compound syrup of Globe Flower.” In this recipe, he mainly used buttonbush ingredients. Buttonbush was a plant that had a toxic composition.

In 1869, he joined Pemberton, Wilson, Taylor, and Co. in Atlanta and moved there in 1870. He was the principal partner of the company. After his settlement in Atlanta, he was elected to be a trustee of Atlanta Medical College. This gave him an opportunity to be in Philadelphia. This business was also a large-scale manufacturer of pharmaceutical products. 

He did not stop and actively continued his experiments. This time, he started to use cocoa and cocoa wines. With the use of cocoa, he created a mixture that contained an extract of kola and Damiana. He called this invention “Pemberton’s French Wine Coca.”

In 1885, John Pemberton shared information about his beverage publicly. He said that it was made from pure wine, Peruvian coca, and kola nuts. He also stated that it was beneficial for their health. 

Because of Fulton County’s actions, which enacted temperance legislation in 1886, Pemberton was forced to change the recipe of French Wine Coca. The newer version must have been non-alcoholic. In this case, John Pemberton asked Willie E. Venable for help. Willie was the owner of a drugstore in Atlanta. He let John test his product and do experiments on the recipes. They set the preparation steps and directions and started working on the new recipe.

How Coca-Cola Was Invented

According to the sources, John Pemberton created the famous Coca-Cola recipe in Columbus and carried it to Atlanta. He had a concern regarding alcoholism and addictive traits in people. He called his inventions “medicine”. In the early stages of production, it was marketed toward women. The ladies with the nervous prostrations were the main targets.

The creation of Coca-Cola was a happy accident. During one of the experiments, John Pemberton accidentally mixed the syrup with carbonated water. He liked it so much that he thought it would be better to call it a drink and not medicine. So, the sales of new beverages started as fountain drinks. During the first years of its appearance on the market, an average of nine bottles of Coca-Cola were sold every day. 

Frank Mason Robinson was actually the one who came up with the legendary name and logo of Coca-Cola. He was the bookkeeper and Pemberton’s partner. Coca-Cola was the popular name for wine medicine back then, so it sounded alliterative. There were several controversies regarding the name Coca-Cola. However, the company stated that it had nothing to do with the cocaine content.

To advertise the product back then, they came up with a bunch of different benefits that the drink could offer. One of the claims was that it was a “Valuable Brain Tonic“. It was also advertised to cure headaches, exhaustion, and depression. Coca-Cola advertisements soon appeared in the Atlanta Journal newspaper. The article was inviting people to try a new soda fountain drink.

Why the Business Was Sold

Coca-Cola sales started successfully, and people liked it too. However, soon after this, John Pemberton became ill and could not manage to run the manufacturing process anymore. He almost went bankrupt. Because of the problems in the company and his illness, he became very desperate and slowly started to sell the formula rights. By that time, he was still addicted to morphine. 

He decided to save his recipe for Coca-Cola by forming the company. He assigned his son Charles to be in charge of the manufacturing process. He decided to retire from the medical practice and sold the drugstores that he had in Atlanta and several different states. 

To save his company, John Pemberton decided to turn the company into a corporation. So, in 1888, he signed a petition stating that he wanted to incorporate Coca-Cola with Fulton County Superior Court. After five months of incorporation, he passed away. Eventually, he sold his rights to his business partner in Atlanta. 

John Pemberton had several attempts to retain his shares of ownership to give them to his son. However, his son did not want the shares and preferred money over them. So, in 1888, all their shares of the company were sold, and the owner of those shares became Asa Griggs Candler, a pharmacist from Atlanta. He bought those shares for only $1,750. After some time, he managed to get the company’s additional rights and wanted to have complete control over it.

Coca-Cola Today

Coca-Cola’s net worth today is more than $86 billion. The brand is represented in more than 200 countries around the world. Each day, 1,9 billion bottles of Coca-Cola are sold. It is almost impossible to imagine how big and successful this soft-drink brand is today. They managed to make people fall in love with the product and maintain customer loyalty. 

Several new versions of the Coca-Cola brand are being introduced today. Diet Coke, Diet Coke Caffeine-Free, Coca-Cola Zero, Cherry, Vanilla, Citra, Lime, and Mango are among the flavors available. Every year, billions of people wait for the new Coca-Cola advertisements, and the brand always manages to surprise its customers. 

Today, Pepsi is the major competitor of the Coca-Cola brand. These two major soft drink brands have been rivals for decades now. They have a competitive oligopoly. Those two brands are in control of the entire soda market.

The Death of John Pemberton

Pemberton died in August 1888. By that time, he was still addicted to morphine, and he suffered in poverty. Such a sad end for such an amazing inventor. 

He is buried in Linwood Cemetery, in his hometown. On his grave, there is a symbol showing that he served in the Confederate Army and was a Freemason. Soon after their deaths, the last shares of the Coca-Cola Company and formula were sold by their son, Charles Pemberton. Unfortunately, Charles was also suffering from opium addiction, and it became the reason for his death. 

According to the Atlanta newspaper, John Pemberton was the “most noted physical Atlanta ever had”.

Bottom Line

John Pemberton was a well-respected member of society and a truly gifted medic. His great skills as a chemist helped him to gain love and respect. Apart from the iconic Coca-Cola creation, he opened laboratories. More than a century has passed and those laboratories are still operating. 

He always had the anticipation that his beverage would become a “national drink” someday, and he was right. It became not only a national drink but the number one soft drink in the world that is loved by all.

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