Our story 1886-1892: The Beginning

It was 1886 and in New York Harbour, workers were constructing the Statue of Liberty. Eight hundred miles away, another great American symbol was about to be unveiled. Like many people who change history, John Pemberton, an Atlanta pharmacist, was inspired by simple curiosity.

One afternoon, he stirred up a fragrant, caramel-coloured liquid and, when it was done, he carried it a few doors down to Jacobs’ Pharmacy. Here, the mixture was combined with carbonated water and sampled by customers who all agreed this new drink was something special. So Jacobs’ Pharmacy put it on sale for five cents (about 3p) a glass. Pemberton’s bookkeeper, Frank Robinson, named the mixture Coca-Cola and wrote it out in his distinctive script.

To this day, Coca-Cola is written the same way.  In the first year, Pemberton sold just nine glasses of Coca-Cola a day. A century later, The Coca-Cola Company has produced more than ten billion gallons of syrup. Over the course of three years, between 1888-1891, Atlanta businessman Asa Griggs Candler secured rights to the business for a total of about $2,300 (about £1,500). Candler would become Coca-Cola’s first president and the first to bring real vision to the business and the brand.

Our story 1893-1904: Outside Atlanta 

Asa Candler, a natural born salesman, transformed Coca-Cola from an invention into a business. Candler knew there were thirsty people out there, and he found brilliant and innovative ways to introduce them to this exciting new refreshment. He gave away coupons for complimentary first tastes of Coca-Cola and outfitted distributing pharmacists with clocks, urns, calendars and apothecary scales bearing the Coca-Cola branding. People saw Coca-Cola everywhere, and the aggressive promotion worked. By 1895, Candler had built syrup plants in Chicago, Dallas and Los Angeles.

Inevitably, the drink’s popularity led to a demand for it to be enjoyed in new ways. In 1894, a Mississippi businessman named Joseph Biedenharn became the first to putCoca-Cola in bottles. He sent 12 of them to Candler who responded without enthusiasm. Despite being a brilliant and innovative businessman, he didn’t realize then that the future of Coca-Cola would be with portable, bottled beverages customers could take anywhere. He still didn’t realize it five years later, when, in 1899, two Chattanooga lawyers, Benjamin Thomas and Joseph Whitehead, secured exclusive rights from Candler to bottle and sell the beverage for the sum of only one dollar.

History of Coca-Cola 1905-1918: Coke finds its identity

As Coca-Cola grew in popularity, copycats began to appear eager to capitalize on the success. Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but The Coca-Cola Company was none too pleased and set about protecting the product and the brand. Advertising focused on the authenticity of Coca-Cola, urging consumers to ‘Demand the genuine’ and ‘Accept no substitute’.

The company also wanted to create a distinctive bottle shape to assure people they were getting a real Coca-Cola. The Root Glass Company of Terre Haute, Indiana, won a contest to design a bottle that could be recognized in the dark, and in 1916, they began manufacturing the famous Contour Bottle, which remains the signature shape of Coca-Cola today.

The Coca-Cola Company grew rapidly and before long expanded into Canada, Panama, Cuba, Puerto Rico, France and other countries and US territories. In 1900, there were two bottlers of Coca-Cola; by 1920, there were about 1,000.

History of Coca-Cola 1919-1940: the Woodruff legacy 

Arguably no person had more impact on The Coca-Cola Company than Robert Woodruff. In 1923, four years after his father Ernest purchased the company from Asa Candler, Robert became the company’s president. Candler had introduced the U.S to Coca-Cola, but the new company leader would spend more than 60 years introducing the drink to the world.

Woodruff was a marketing genius who saw opportunities everywhere. He spearheaded expansion overseas and in 1928 introduced Coca-Cola to the Olympic Games for the first time, when the beverage travelled with Team USA to the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics. 

Woodruff pushed for development and distribution of the six-pack and many other innovations that made it easier for people to enjoy Coca-Cola at home or on the move. This new thinking made Coca-Cola not just a huge success but a big part of people’s lives.

History of Coca-Cola 1941-1959: the war and what followed

In 1941, America entered World War II and thousands of US citizens were sent overseas. To show support for the brave men and women, Coca-Cola President Robert Woodruff ordered that “every man in uniform gets a bottle of Coca-Cola for five cents, wherever he is and whatever it costs the company”.
In 1943, General Dwight D Eisenhower sent an urgent cable to Coca-Cola requesting shipment of materials for 10 bottling plants. During the war many people enjoyed their first taste of the drink, and when peace finally came, the foundations had been laid for Coca-Cola to do business overseas.
Woodruff’s vision that Coca-Cola be placed within ‘arm’s reach of desire’ was coming true. From the mid-1940s until 1960, the number of countries with bottling operations nearly doubled.

Post-war America was alive with optimism and prosperity. Coca-Cola was part of a fun, carefree American lifestyle, and the imagery of its advertising – happy couples at the drive-in, carefree mums driving big, yellow convertibles – reflected the spirit of the times.