On this day May 8, 1886
In Atlanta, Georgia, American pharmacist John Pemberton first sold his carbonated beverage Coca-Cola as a patent medicine, claiming that it cured a number of diseases.
The first Coca-Cola recipe was invented in Columbus, Georgia at a drugstore by John Pemberton, originally as a cocawine called Pemberton’s French Wine Coca in 1885. He may have been inspired by the formidable success of Vin Mariani, a European cocawine.
In 1886, when Atlanta and Fulton County passed prohibition legislation, Pemberton responded by developing Coca-Cola, essentially a non-alcoholic version of French Wine Cola. The first sales were at Jacob’s Pharmacy in Atlanta, Georgia, on May 8, 1886.
It was initially sold as a patent medicine for five cents a glass at soda fountains, which were popular in the United States at the time due to the belief that carbonated water was good for the health. Pemberton claimed Coca-Cola cured many diseases, including morphine addiction, dyspepsia, neurasthenia, headache, and impotence. Pemberton ran the first advertisement for the beverage on May 29 of the same year in the Atlanta Journal.
Pemberton called for five ounces of coca leaf per gallon of syrup, a significant dose; in 1891, Candler claimed his formula (altered extensively from Pemberton’s original) contained only a tenth of this amount. Coca-Cola did once contain an estimated nine milligrams of cocaine per glass, but in 1903 it was removed. Coca-Cola still contains coca flavoring.
After 1904, instead of using fresh leaves, Coca-Cola started using “spent” leaves—the leftovers of the cocaine-extraction process with cocaine trace levels left over at a molecular level. To this day, Coca-Cola uses as an ingredient a cocaine-free coca leaf extract prepared at a Stepan Company plant in Maywood, New Jersey.
In the United States, Stepan Company is the only manufacturing plant authorized by the Federal Government to import and process the coca plant. Stepan laboratory in Maywood, New Jersey is the nation’s only legal commercial importer of coca leaves, which it obtains mainly from Peru and, to a lesser extent, Bolivia.
Besides producing the coca flavoring agent for Coca-Cola, Stepan Company extracts cocaine from the coca leaves, which it sells to Mallinckrodt, a St. Louis, Missouri pharmaceutical manufacturer that is the only company in the United States licensed to purify cocaine for medicinal use. Stepan Company buys about 100 metric tons of dried Peruvian coca leaves each year, according to Marco Castillo, spokesman for Peru’s state-owned National Coca Co.