The registered trademark of this multinational soft drink firm represents arguably the most widely recognized consumer product
on the face of the earth.
From "The Pause That Refreshes" to "The Real Thing," the company's advertising slogans have become as much a part of Americana
as has our visual perception of the fat and jolly Santa Claus first drawn by the artist Haddon Sundblom for a Coca-Cola advertisement
that appeared in 1931. As the company expanded its business to global markets, particularly after World War II (1941-45), many people in Africa, Asia, Europe, and Latin America have come to associate the taste of this carbonated cola
drink with American culture.
When John Stith Pemberton sold the
first glass of his newly concocted drink in Atlanta's Jacobs Pharmacy in 1886, he was entering an already established but localized market for soda fountain tonics that promised
health benefits of one kind or another along with refreshment. Born in tiny Knoxville, Georgia, in 1831, Pemberton had trained
at a college of herbal medicine before graduating from pharmacy school in Philadelphia. He first practiced his trade in Oglethorpe before moving to Columbus, where he operated as a druggist for fourteen years with various partners. After relocating to Atlanta in 1869, Pemberton
began to experiment
extensively with extracts of the coca leaf and kola nut, initially marketing a moderately successful health drink called "French
Wine Coca." One of Pemberton's four partners, Frank M. Robinson, coined and trademarked the name Coca-Cola, derived from its
central ingredients. He also registered the product's famous script logo, and a marketing phenomenon was born. From that moment
a mystique over the supposed "secret formula" of Coca-Cola embodied in the aptly named "Merchandise 7X" has remained. Folklore
has it that the original beverage contained cocaine from the coca leaf, at least until the passage of the Pure Food and Drugs
Act in 1906. The official position of the firm, however, is that the drink does not and has never contained the drug. Meanwhile,
company attorneys have fought aggressively in the courts to protect trademarks and ensure Coke's identity.
Pemberton's small company grew rapidly after it was acquired by Asa Griggs Candler between 1889 and 1891. Candler, a successful druggist and businessman, outlined the company's basic strategy—the manufacture
and distribution of Coca-Cola syrup to be mixed with carbonated water at the soda fountain.
A staunch Methodist whose brother was a church bishop, Candler successfully marketed the nonalcoholic beverage as a "temperance drink," but he
did not see beyond the drugstore fountain. In an astounding deal negotiated in 1899, two Chattanooga, Tennessee, lawyers, Benjamin Franklin Thomas and Joseph Brown Whitehead, obtained the rights to bottle Coca-Cola throughout the United States
except in Mississippi, where Joseph A. Biedenharn of Vicksburg had obtained rights in 1894. When Thomas and Whitehead undertook
to grant exclusive rights to other bottlers, the term parent bottler emerged to designate large regional bottlers. These parent bottlers in turn granted franchises to thousands of smaller, independently
licensed franchises all over the United States.
Independent Coca-Cola bottlers soon became established in small and middle-sized towns throughout America; most of them also
became very wealthy.
In Georgia a number of prominent families made their fortunes as franchised Coca-Cola bottlers, including the Barrons of Rome, the Cobbs of LaGrange and West Point, the Haleys of Albany, the Montgomerys of Atlanta, the Robertses of Columbus, and the Samses of Athens. To better coordinate relations with and between the franchised bottlers, the parent company established the Coca-Cola Bottlers
Association in Atlanta in 1914. Two years later Coca-Cola introduced the distinctive "hobbleskirt" bottle as the standard
package for use by its franchisees. This contoured bottle has become a well-known symbol for the beverage and serves to further
distinguish the "real thing" from its imitators.
Significant growth internationally had to await the change in ownership and control that accompanied the Candler
interests' sale of the firm for $25 million to a consortium headed by Atlanta businessman Ernest Woodruff in 1919. Prominent
Columbus businessman W. C. Bradley played a critical financial role in the group, serving as board chairman until 1939 and chairman of its advisory committee
until 1946. The Bradley family remains a prominent force in Columbus today through its many business interests and the philanthropy
of the Bradley-Turner Foundation. In 1923 Ernest Woodruff's son Robert Woodruff became president and the eventual architect of Coke's worldwide expansion. Key steps included the formation of the Coca-Cola
Export Corporation in 1930 and the World War II pledge to provide a Coca-Cola for five cents to every American serviceperson,
wherever he or she might be stationed. This brilliant business strategy and patriotic gesture provided the Coca-Cola Company
with worldwide bottling plants and a business infrastructure poised to go forward at the end of the war.
The company has always had success creating partnerships with local franchised bottlers, but a recent trend to expand the
number of company-owned bottling plants abroad mirrors changes in distribution strategies at home. As supermarket sales and
regional distribution have come to dominate the beverage industry, the number of local bottlers has waned. The parent firm
in 1986 formed a wholly owned subsidiary, Coca-Cola Enterprises, as a vehicle for acquiring a larger share of bottling operations
domestically and later overseas.
As the world's largest manufacturer, distributor, and marketer of nonalcoholic beverage concentrates and syrups,
operating in more than 200 countries, the firm supplies many products in addition to its flagship brand. These include fruit-based
and other carbonated beverages tailored to local tastes as well as newer variants of the main brand, such as Diet, Cherry,
and Vanilla Coke. Although the company did experiment with diversification in recent decades (for example, motion pictures,
coffee, and wine), current corporate strategy has emphasized the nonalcoholic beverage market. Although carbonated beverages
represented 85 percent of worldwide sales volume in 2002, increased market share for the Coke products Dasani bottled water,
POWERade sports drink, and Minute Maid orange juice have demonstrated growth in the noncarbonated sector.
The Coca-Cola Company and the individuals associated with its history have left a lasting imprint on the
face of Georgia. Emory University in Atlanta has benefited immensely from the philanthropy of both the Candlers and the Woodruffs, and the company has long
been at the forefront of sponsorship of the arts and civic affairs. Robert W. Woodruff, who remained a power within the corporate
leadership of the company up until his death in 1985 at age ninety-five, had been called "Mr. Anonymous" because of the millions
of dollars he contributed quietly to a host of causes. The Robert W. Woodruff Memorial Arts Center in Atlanta is perhaps the
most recognized monument to his philanthropy. Woodruff's handpicked successor, Roberto Goizueta, who steered the company to corporate success more recently, also has been noteworthy for his charitable contributions.
Just after Woodruff's death in 1985, Coca-Cola embarked on one of the most famous marketing blunders in the history of American
Concerned by taste tests that suggested a growing preference among the young for the sweetness of archrival Pepsi-Cola, management
announced a change in the formula of its main brand. Ensuing protests and torrents of negative publicity greeted "New Coke"
and resulted in the decision to reverse policy and retain "Classic Coke." The company weathered the storm to emerge even stronger
in the 1990s and by the early twenty-first century had reestablished itself as the pacesetter in the nonalcoholic beverage
The company in 1990 opened the World of Coca-Cola in Atlanta. This popular museum served the company well while retelling
one of Georgia's most famous success stories to thousands of daily visitors. In 2007 the museum moved to a larger facility
featuring new exhibits and artifacts, as well as a statue of John Pemberton. It is located near other attractions in downtown
Atlanta, including Centennial Olympic Park, the CNN Center, and the Georgia Aquarium.
Several new varieties of Coke were introduced early in the twenty-first century. In 2004 the company launched C2, a low-carbohydrate
cola, and Full Throttle, an energy drink. The following year Coca-Cola with Lime; Coca-Cola Zero, a no-calorie beverage; and
a sugar-free version of Full Throttle debuted. In 2006 Black Cherry Vanilla Coke, both regular and diet; Vault and Vault Zero,
energy sodas; and Coca-Cola Blak, a coffee-cola combination, entered the marketplace.
In his 2005 best-seller, A History of the World in Six Glasses, social historian Tom Standage includes Coca-Cola as one of six beverages, along with beer, wine, spirits, coffee, and tea,
that have shaped different eras in world history. He singles out Coke to represent the globalization of U.S. business and
industry in the twentieth century and chronicles its role as an international symbol of freedom during the cold war.
In 2007 Coca-Cola acquired Glaceau, a beverage company that produces flavored and vitamin-enhanced water.
Frederick Allen, Secret Formula: How Brilliant Marketing and Relentless Salesmanship Made Coca-Cola the Best-Known Product in the World (New York: HarperBusiness, 1994).
Mike Cheatham, Your Friendly Neighbor: The Story of Georgia's Coca-Cola Bottling Families (Macon, Ga.: Mercer University Press, 1999).
Thomas Oliver, The Real Coke, the Real Story (New York: Random House, 1986).
Mark Pendergrast, For God, Country, and Coca-Cola: The Definitive History of the Great American Soft Drink and the Company That Makes It, 2d ed. (New York: Basic Books, 2000).
Tom Standage, A History of the World in Six Glasses (New York: Walker and Company, 2005).
Pat Watters, Coca-Cola: An Illustrated History (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1978).
August W. Giebelhaus, Georgia Institute of Technology