Company: The Coca-Cola Company
Founder(s): John Pemberton (creator), Asa Griggs Candler (business founder)
Age of founder(s) at start: 55 and 35
Background: Pharmaceuticals and sales
Year of foundation: 1886
Business type: Beverage manufacturer
Founded in: Atlanta, Georgia
Everyone has sampled the ‘Coke side of life’. Its trademark scripted, bright red logo can be seen all over the world – from English pub umbrellas to football grounds, from Chinese shop signs to 20-foot-tall neon in Times Square. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that The Coca-Cola Company has a presence in every country in the world, and arguably it was the world’s first truly global brand. It has been declared both the world’s most recognisable trademark and the world’s most popular branded drink.
Yet this amazing success story had very humble beginnings. A pharmacist from Atlanta named John Pemberton invented a new “medicine” called Coca-Cola. One afternoon in 1886, when workers were building the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor, Pemberton was experimenting with combinations of ingredients in a three-legged brass pot in his backyard to try to develop a new medicine. He came up with a fragrant, caramel-colored liquid. Out of sheer curiosity, he took it to neighboring Jacob’s Pharmacy, where he added carbonated water. After testing it on customers, who all thought it was something special, Jacob’s Pharmacy started selling it as a medicine for 5 cents a glass (the equivalent of about a dollar today). Pemberton claimed his new drink cured diseases, including morphine addiction, dyspepsia, neurasthenia, headache, even impotence.
In the first year, Pemberton sold just nine glasses of Coca-Cola a day, making around $50 in total ($1,170 today). It had cost Pemberton $70 to create and advertize the drink, so he made a loss. But he persevered. Encouraged by the drink’s popularity with customers, Pemberton remained convinced he would eventually make something of it.
First named Pemberton's French Wine of Cola, the alcohol in the drink was quickly replaced by sugar to make it more appealing to drink. The drink was renamed Coca-Cola by Pemberton’s bookkeeper, Frank Robinson, who also wrote the name for the logo in the distinctive script that is still in use today. The name is derived from two key ingredients: leaves from the coca plant and the caffeine-rich kola nut. Until 1905, the drink even contained traces of cocaine, which was added for its medicinal effects.
Pemberton’s young company started to grow sales of its drink by getting other pharmacies to sell Coca-Cola, too. It sold 25 gallons of syrup to drug stores and ensured all the stores that sold the drink had hand-painted Coca-Cola signs to help promote it. Pemberton persuaded six local businessmen to invest in the company to help him finance this expansion.