The History of Coca-Cola


The product that has given the world its best-known taste and led to a memorabilia craze was born in Atlanta, Georgia, on May 8, 1886. Dr. John Stith Pemberton, a local pharmacist, produced the syrup for Coca Cola® and carried a jug of the new product down the street to Jacobs' Pharmacy, where it was placed on sale for 5 cents a glass at the soda fountain. Carbonated water was added to produce a drink that was at once "Delicious and Refreshing," a theme that continues to echo today wherever Coca Cola is enjoyed.

Thinking that "the two C's would look well in advertising," Pemberton's partner and bookkeeper, Frank Robinson, suggested the name and penned the now famous trademark "Coca Cola" in his unique script. The first newspaper ad for Coca Cola soon appeared, inviting people to try "the new and popular soda fountain drink," and hand-painted oilcloth signs reading "Coca Cola" appeared on store awnings. During the first year, sales averaged a modest nine drinks per day.

Pemberton never realized the potential of the beverage he created. He gradually sold portions of his business to various partners and, just prior to his death in 1888, sold his remaining interest in Coca Cola to Asa Candler. An Atlantan with great business acumen, Candler proceeded to buy additional rights. Candler achieved sole ownership in 1891, for a total cost of $2,300.


By 1892, Candler's flair for merchandising had boosted sales of Coca Cola syrup nearly tenfold. A firm believer in advertising, Candler expanded on Pemberton's marketing efforts, distributing thousands of coupons for a complimentary glass of Coca Cola – a new idea at the time. He promoted the product incessantly, distributing souvenir fans, calendars, clocks, urns and countless novelties, all with the Coca Cola trademark. These promotional pieces have become today’s prized collectibles.

The business continued to grow, and in 1895, Candler announced in his annual report to shareholders that "Coca Cola is now drunk in every state and territory in the United States."


While Candler's efforts focused on boosting soda fountain sales, another concept was beginning – one that would spread the enjoyment of Coca Cola worldwide.

In Mississippi in 1894, a shop owner was so impressed by the growing demand for Coca Cola at his soda fountain that he installed bottling machinery in the rear of his store, becoming the first to bottle Coca Cola.

Large-scale bottling was made possible in 1899, when Candler gave Tennessee businessmen the exclusive rights to bottle and sell Coca Cola in practically the entire United States. The first bottling plant was opened in Chattanooga in 1899, and over the next 20 years, the number of plants grew to more than 1,000. Today, the Coca Cola bottling system is one of the largest, most widespread production and distribution networks in the world.


Coca Cola in the early 1900s had a serious challenge: protecting against imitators. Early advertising warned people to "Demand the genuine" and "Accept no substitutes," and settle for nothing less than the real thing.

The never-ending battle against substitution was the major force behind the creation of the distinctive hobble-skirt bottle. Different straight-sided containers were used through 1915, but as soft-drink competition intensified, so did imitation. To give Coca Cola a distinctive package, in 1916 the bottlers approved the unique contour bottle designed by the Root Glass Company of Indiana.

The now-familiar shape was granted registration as a trademark by the U.S. Patent Office in 1977, an honor accorded only a handful of other packages.


In 1919, a group of investors headed by Ernest Woodruff purchased The Coca Cola Company for $25 million. Four years later, Robert Woodruff, Ernest's son, was elected president, beginning more than six decades of leadership in the business.

The new president put uncommon emphasis on product quality. Woodruff also saw vast potential for the bottle business, and substantially increased advertising and marketing support. By the end of 1928, Coca Cola sales in bottles exceeded fountain sales for the first time.

Robert Woodruff's leadership through the years took the Coca Cola business to unrivaled heights of commercial success. Merchandising concepts accepted as commonplace today were considered revolutionary when Woodruff introduced them. For example, the Company pioneered the six-bottle carton in the early 1920s, making it easier for people to take Coca-Cola home. The simple cardboard carton became one of the industry's most powerful merchandising tools. Other innovations included: the metal, open-top cooler in 1929, which allowed Coca Cola to be served ice-cold in places such as factories and offices; the distinctive bell-shaped fountain glass, adopted as standard in 1929 and still used today; and the automatic fountain dispenser, introduced at the 1933 Chicago World's Fair.


Perhaps Woodruff's greatest contribution was his vision of Coca Cola as an international product. He established the global momentum that eventually carried Coca Cola to every corner of the world.

In the first two decades of the 20th Century, the international growth of Coca Cola had been rather haphazard. In 1900, Coca Cola traveled to England, Cuba and Puerto Rico, and it wasn't long before the international distribution of syrup began. Through the early 1900s, bottling operations were built in Cuba, Panama, Canada, Puerto Rico, the Philippines and Guam.

By 1930, the number of countries with bottling operations had almost quadrupled, and the Company had initiated a partnership with the Olympic Games that transcended cultural boundaries. That association began the summer of 1928 – when an American freighter arrived in Amsterdam carrying the U.S. Olympic team and 1,000 cases of Coca Cola – and continues today.


At the outbreak of World War II, Coca Cola was bottled in 44 countries, including those on both sides of the conflict. The war presented a new set of challenges and opportunities for the entire Coca Cola system. U.S. entry into the war brought an order from Woodruff in 1941 "to see that every man in uniform gets a bottle of Coca Cola for 5 cents, wherever he is and whatever it costs the Company."

Sixty-four bottling plants were shipped abroad during the war and set up near combat areas in Europe and the Pacific. More than 5 billion bottles of Coke were consumed by military service personnel. The presence of Coca Cola did more than just lift the morale of the troops; in many areas, it gave local people their first taste of Coca Cola.

When peace returned, the Coca Cola system was poised for unprecedented worldwide growth. From the mid-1940s until 1960, the number of countries with bottling operations nearly doubled. As the world emerged from a time of conflict, Coca Cola emerged as a worldwide symbol of friendship and refreshment.


From the late 1940s to the 1970s, The Coca Cola Company faced dramatic changes and a new, more complex global marketplace. As consumers demanded a wider variety of choices, the Company responded with innovative packaging, new technology and new products.


Until the mid-1950s, Coca Cola packaging was defined by a 6 ½-ounce contour bottle or bell-shaped fountain glass. In 1955, the Company introduced the 10-, 12- and 26-ounce king-size and family-size bottles, which were immediately successful. Metal cans, first developed for armed forces overseas, were available on U.S. shelves by 1960. Then, following years of research into plastic soft-drink bottles, the Company introduced a 2-liter PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate) package in 1977.

The Company also introduced new soft drinks to satisfy different tastes. Born in Germany, Fanta® was introduced in the U.S. in 1960; Sprite® followed in 1961, and in 1963 the Company introduced TAB®, its first low-calorie beverage.

In 1960 the Minute Maid Corporation merged with the Company, adding Minute Maid® and Hi C® juices and ades to the Company's beverages.


Through the years, jingles and slogans have set the pace for Coca Cola advertising. One famous slogan, "The Pause That Refreshes," first appeared in 1929 and was followed by "It's the Refreshing Thing to do" in 1936 and 1944's "Global High Sign." The 1950s produced "Sign of Good Taste," "Be Really Refreshed" and "Go Better Refreshed."

Fine illustrations by top artists including Norman Rockwell reflected these slogans in colorful ads in leading magazines. Artist Haddon Sundblom's popular Santa Claus "portraits," which began in the 1930s, continued as holiday ads until the early 1960s. These illustrations were used in calendars, posters, cardboard cutouts and more, and today are collected around the world.

The Company's advertising changed with the advent of television. On Thanksgiving Day 1950, the first live television network show sponsored by The Coca Cola Company aired. As the medium evolved from program sponsorship to commercials that ran during different shows, many famous celebrities advertised Coca Cola.

1963 brought the memorable "Things Go Better with Coke" slogan, and "It's the Real Thing" -- first used in 1942 -- was revived in 1969.

In 1971, young people from around the world gathered on a hilltop in Italy to sing "I'd Like to Buy the World a Coke," showing unity during turbulent times. 1976 saw the "Coke Adds Life" campaign, leading to the 1979 introduction of "Have a Coke and a Smile," a campaign of heart-warming emotion best captured by the famous commercial featuring football player "Mean" Joe Greene.

In early 1982, the "Coke Is It!" theme was launched around the world to reflect the positive spirit of the 1980s, and "Can't Beat the Feeling" wrapped up the decade. "Can't Beat the Real Thing" led the way into the 1990s, and the innovative "Always Coca Cola" campaign debuted in 1993, followed by "Coca Cola … Real" in 2003.

Through the years, advertising for Coca Cola has changed in many ways, but has shown Coca Cola as one of life's simple pleasures, distinctive and acceptable anywhere.


Entering the last quarter of the 20th Century, the deep emotional bond between Coca Cola and its consumers grew even more powerful and more global.

In 1982, soft-drink history was made with the introduction of diet Coke®, the first extension of the trademarks Coca Cola and Coke, and the most successful new soft drink since Coca Cola itself.

The prestige of Coca Cola was exemplified in 1988, when three independent worldwide surveys conducted by Landor & Associates confirmed Coca Cola as the best-known, most-admired trademark in the world.

Perhaps a more human interpretation of consumers’ loyalty to Coca Cola came in 1985. The Company startled the public by announcing a new taste for Coke, the first change in the secret formula since 1886. The new taste – commonly called “new Coke” – was overwhelmingly preferred in taste tests, but no amount of research could measure the emotional attachment people had for the brand. The Company listened and quickly returned the original formula to U.S. and Canadian markets as Coca Cola classic®.


The history of Coca Cola is one of special moments. Moments that originated with Dr. John Pemberton in Atlanta and have been multiplied billions of times around the world. Moments made familiar and universal by Asa Candler's unique advertising and Robert Woodruff's vision to put Coca Cola "within an arm's reach of desire." From Boston to Beijing, from Montreal to Moscow, Coca Cola has created special moments of pleasure for people a billion times each day. And after 120 years, Coca Cola remains a timeless symbol of refreshment.


Throughout its 120-year history, The Coca Cola Company and Coca Cola bottlers have issued a phenomenal amount of beautiful advertising and promotional items that captured the spirit of their times.

Collecting pieces of this history caught on with the public during the nostalgia craze of the 1970s, and in 1974 led to the formation of a group of collectors, independent from The Coca Cola Company, called The Coca Cola Collectors Club. Today the Club has approximately 4,000 members all over the world, who gather at conventions and meetings each year.

Just as drinking Coca Cola is part of sharing good times with family and friends, collecting Coca Cola memorabilia is a great way to bring people together, and those who collect form a worldwide family.

Because of the diversity of collectibles available, virtually anyone can enjoy the pastime of Coca Cola collecting. The earliest promotional pieces are the toughest to find. Only a handful of samples of 1890s calendars, for example, are still known to exist. Anything from that decade is considered rare and the prices on the open market reflect it, with some of the older items selling in the $20,000+ range, depending on their condition. Even later items can be quite valuable. Toy trucks that sold for 49 cents in the 1930s can be worth thousands of dollars today.

However, age is not the only factor. Items from the 1920s, for example, may have been produced in such large quantities that they do not bring high prices, even 80 years later. People who've found a bottle from 1920 are often disappointed to learn that because so many contour bottles are still available, the bottle’s value may remain relatively low today.

Hard-to-find items such as expensive signs and posters are not the only treasures collected. Even a quick glance through a Coca Cola collectibles guide book will show the virtually unlimited number of items. Bottles and cans from around the world, bottles commemorating sporting or other events, lapel pins, and holiday decorations are a great way to get started. The common bond is the Coca Cola trademark, combined with a treasure-hunting spirit. Most collectors can not only tell you about their favorite collectible, but also share the special memory of obtaining it.

Once you find a Coca Cola memorabilia piece and realize you like collecting, you might be surprised to discover that you've just found a hobby that can last a lifetime.