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Happy Birthday, John Pemberton

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John Pemberton was born on the 8th of July in 1831. Who is he you ask? He would go on to invent one of the most popular and famous drinks in the world – Coca Cola.

A medical doctor, Pemberton was a particularly good chemist. This led him to open his own drug store in Columbus, Georgia, where he could work on creating his own medicines and tonics.

He sustained quite a nasty wound in the American Civil War in 1865, and as a result, developed a morphine addiction to cope with the pain. Not wanting to be addicted to morphine forever, he began experimenting with non-morphine-based painkillers and tonics, eventually coming up with “Pemberton’s French Wine Coca”. This “medicine” did quite well in the post-war times, where there was no shortage of war veterans suffering from depression, alcoholism and addiction. Unfortunately, that situation led to moves by the authorities to limit the availability of alcohol, so it was back to the drawing board for Pemberton, to remove alcohol from the tonic.

After much trial and error with the recipe and accidentally adding carbonated water to give it a fizz, he decided to sell it as a drink rather than a medicine and called it Coca-Cola. That didn’t stop him making claims about the healing properties of Coca-Cola however – touting its benefits for curing headaches, relieving exhaustion and calming nerves. Not long after this, Pemberton fell ill and found himself almost bankrupt, forcing him to sell most of his share in the rights to the drink and its recipe. He died in 1888 of stomach cancer, and sadly despite his best efforts to find an alternative, never did manage to kick that morphine addiction. Of course, from these humble beginnings, Coca-Cola is now one of the world’s most recognisable products – successful beyond Pemberton’s wildest expectations (and available in a range of flavours now too including the questionable Coca-Cola Orange Vanilla released this year in the US).

Published July 8, 2019

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