John Stith Pemberton (1831-1888)
John Stith Pemberton was Coca-Cola beverage. In his day Pemberton was a most respected member of the state's medical establishment, but his gift was for medical chemistry rather than regular medicine. He was a practical pharmacist and chemist of great skill, active all his life in medical reform, and a respected businessman. His most enduring accomplishments involve his laboratories, which are still in operation more than 125 years later as part of the Georgia Department of Agriculture. Converted into the state's first testing labs and staffed with Pemberton's hand-picked employees, these labs almost single-handedly eliminated the sale of fraudulent agricultural chemicals in the state and ensured successful prosecution of those who tried to sell them.
Born on January 8, 1831, in Knoxville, in Crawford County, Pemberton grew up and attended the local schools in Rome, Macon, and in 1850, at the age of nineteen, he was licensed to practice on Thomsonian or botanic principles (such practitioners relied heavily on herbal remedies and on purifying the body of toxins, and they were viewed with suspicion by the general public). He practiced medicine and surgery first in Rome and its environs and then in Columbus, where in 1855 he established a wholesale-retail drug business specializing in materia medica (substances used in the composition of medical remedies). Some time before the Civil War (1861-65), he acquired a graduate degree in pharmacy, but the exact date and place are unknown.
The analytical Atlanta
proclaimed in 1869 when the labs were moved to Atlanta, "one of the most splendid Chemical Laboratories that there is in the country." Constitution
Pemberton served with distinction as a lieutenant colonel in the Third Georgia Cavalry Battalion during the Civil War and was almost killed in the fighting at Columbus in April 1865. In 1869 he became a principal partner in the firm of Pemberton, Wilson, Taylor and Company, which was based in Atlanta, where he moved in 1870. Two years later he became a trustee of the Atlanta Medical College (later Emory University School of Medicine) and established a business in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where his own brands of pharmaceuticals were manufactured on a large scale. He also served for six years (1881-87) on the first state examining board that licensed pharmacists in Georgia.
Pemberton was "the most noted physician Atlanta ever had," according to the Atlanta newspapers, but he is best known for his expertise in the laboratory, where he perfected the formula for Coca-Cola.
A few years before Coca-Cola began its spectacular rise to international acclaim, a drink known as Pemberton's French Wine Coca was extremely popular in Atlanta. Its fame spread throughout the Southeast, and the demand for the tasty beverage was high.
In 1885 a reporter from the Atlanta Journal approached the creator of French Wine Coca and asked him for a detailed analysis of the new drink. Pemberton replied, "It is composed of an extract from the leaf of Peruvian Coca,
In 1886 the city of Atlanta introduced prohibition, which, among other things, forbade the sale of wine. Pemberton decided to make another version of his popular drink. He dropped the reference to wine in the name of the beverage, substituted sugar syrup for the wine, and coined the name "Coca-Cola" to identify his formula. Henceforth, he would call Coca-Cola the ideal temperance drink, both on the label and in advertising.
It was Pemberton's practice to organize a business as a copartnership and then convert it into a corporation. In March 1888, after being in business for eight months as a copartner, he filed the petition for incorporation of the first Coca-Cola Company in the Fulton County Superior Court. Five months later, on August 16, 1888, he died at his home in Atlanta.
On the day of Pemberton's funeral, Atlanta druggists closed their stores and attended the services en masse as a tribute of respect. On that day, not one drop of Coca-Cola was dispensed in the entire city. At sunup the following day, a special train carried his body to Columbus, where a large group of friends, relatives, and admirers laid him to rest. The Atlanta newspapers called him "the oldest druggist of Atlanta and one of her best known citizens."
Media Gallery: John Stith Pemberton (1831-1888)