Coca-Cola is the third most valuable brand internationally — only behind Apple and Google — with about $90 billion in assets. It's the drink of choice for millions of people all across the globe, and almost everyone recognizes the iconic logo of the popular soda, even if they don't drink it themselves.
However, many people don’t know the strange story behind the start of the company and all the intriguing facts about the brand throughout the decades. Read on to learn more about the interesting history behind the Coca-Cola brand.
A Debilitating Injury
Coca-Cola actually had a pretty gruesome start. During the Civil War, a Confederate colonel named John Pemberton suffered a terrible saber wound to the chest and had to be carried away from the fight. Considering the deep wound, the soldiers assumed Colonel Pemberton would die. To ease his pain during what they expected to be his last few hours, doctors gave him a great deal of morphine.
Searching for a Cure
With the addiction taking a toll on his body, Pemberton started working on a cure to kick the habit. During the late 1800s, most cures for illnesses were "patent medicines" that were over-the-counter remedies that were promoted without regard for effectiveness or potential side effects. In most cases, they weren't very different from exotic liquors at the time.
Effects of Prohibition
In 1886, Atlanta and other parts of Georgia implemented prohibition laws, banning the production and sale of alcohol. That meant Pemberton could no longer sell his French Wine Coca Nerve Tonic as it was. Prohibition laws did not ban the use of cocaine, so Pemberton decided to reformulate his product into a non-alcoholic product that included 9 milligrams of cocaine but no wine.
The Production Process
The actual production process behind Coca-Cola was unique for its time and is one of the secrets behind the brand’s success. Instead of investing in facilities and distributors to create and sell the product, Pemberton focused on making the product at his own plant. He then shipped the syrup out to contractors and other businesses to mix it and sell it exactly how they wanted.
Sadly, John Pemberton died in 1888 from stomach cancer that was likely related to his addiction to morphine. The flexible structure of his company led to some major legal issues after he was gone. No one was clear about ownership and responsibilities within the company.
An Unforgettable Logo
By 1891, Candler was the sole proprietor of Coca-Cola after investing $3,000 to buy all shares and rights. Under his direction, Coca-Cola was positively transformed forever. In 1885, before Pemberton died, Frank Mason Robinson — either Candler’s or Pemberton's bookkeeper — wrote out the name of the business in Spencerian script.
Candler was so invested in the company that he was always working on new marketing tactics to get the Coca-Cola name out there. As early as 1886, he began passing out little slips of paper that could be redeemed for a single glass of Coca-Cola.
Bottling the Product
Originally, Candler focused on selling the Coca-Cola syrup to pharmacies and fountains, which had always been the product's main distributors. However, he began working with a Vicksburg-based distributor in 1891 to come up with preliminary ideas for bottling the product. Eight years later, Coca-Cola set up its first bottling plant in Chattanooga through another independent distributor.
Santa Loves Coke
Before Santa Claus became a jolly, fat man in a red suit, he was simply known as Father Christmas, a lean, tall man in a red, green or brown suit. Even more interesting, did you know that Coca-Cola is responsible for turning Santa into the huge Christmas figurehead he is today?
The Struggle Overseas
Even during its early years, Coca-Cola was exported overseas informally, particularly to Cuba. In fact, the first rum and Coke was reportedly mixed in a Havana bar in 1900. A Signal Corps officer raised a toast with the drink after Cuba's newly won freedom from Spain, and the drink became a staple in nightclubs after that.
A New Owner
In 1919, Candler’s children sold The Coca-Cola Company to a group of investors led by Atlanta businessman Ernest Woodruff for $25 million. Woodruff took the company public and launched a plan to grow the business overseas. He realized that bottles would do much better overseas than the fountains that were still popular in the U.S.
Breaking Through Overseas
Coca-Cola attempted to market the product overseas again in 1925. The company opened an office solely dedicated to selling the drink worldwide. During the late 1920s and early 1930s, the company advertised, gave away and sold Coca-Cola all over Europe, marketing it as a cool, refreshing import all the way from America.
Woodruff was full of marketing ideas to sell the product. One of those ideas was to sponsor the U.S. Olympic team in 1928. The team arrived in Amsterdam along with 40,000 bottles of Coca-Cola. The result? Coca-Cola products continue to be highlighted at the Olympics today. The 1996 Centenary Games were even held in Atlanta, the current home of Coca-Cola's corporate headquarters.
In 1950, the product became the first to be featured on the cover of Time magazine. The historic cover featured an illustration of the Earth drinking from a Coke bottle. This showed just how popular Coca-Cola had become, not only in the States but all over the globe.
Changing Things Up
After World War II, Coca-Cola continued to expand in terms of packaging and developing new products. The trademark "Coke," which was first used in advertising in 1941, was officially registered in 1945. The following year, the company purchased the rights to Fanta, a soft drink that had been developed in Germany. The contoured Coke bottle, which was released in 1916, was registered as a trademark in 1960.
New Coke Fail
In 1985, the company infamously changed the formula of Coca-Cola to what was commonly referred to as "New Coke." Consumers hated the new soda formula, and plunging sales reflected the outraged backlash. The new formula was only on sale to the public for 79 days before the company brought back the original formula, which was marketed from that point on as "Coca-Cola Classic."
Coke in the Morning
In the late 1980s, Coca-Cola discovered that roughly 12% of its customers consumed the caffeinated drink in the morning instead of coffee. In light of this discovery, the company decided to do an aggressive marketing campaign promoting Coke as a morning pick-me-up.
In a continuous attempt to promote the brand, Coca-Cola came up with a pretty funky marketing idea in 1990. The idea was to run a promotion where certain cans had cash or coupons instead of coke. That meant it was also necessary to prevent consumers from simply picking up cans to find the ones without soda in them.
Deck the Halls
As mentioned previously with Santa Claus, Coca-Cola is well known for its holiday advertising. Another standout advertising campaign during the Christmas season is the happy polar bear with the bright red Coca-Cola scarf. The bears became a lasting part of the brand in 1993 when the company released its "Northern Lights" commercial.
The Coca-Cola Company continued to soar during the 1990s, adding both East Germany and India to its distribution channel during the decade. The brand also introduced its first bottle made partially from recycled plastic, which was a step forward in helping the environment at the time.
A Controversial Lawsuit
In the early 2000s, Coca-Cola dealt with allegations of illegal soil and water pollution as well as allegations of severe human rights violations. In 2001, the United Steelworkers of America and the International Labor Rights Fund filed a lawsuit against the company as well as Bebidas y Alimentos and Panamerican Beverages, Inc. (the primary bottlers of Coca-Cola products in Latin America).
Standing Up for Causes
In the 2000s, The Coca-Cola Company stood up for issues affecting people all over the world. The company worked with the United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) to battle the epidemic in Africa. The Coca-Cola Foundation and bottlers of the products contributed a collective $12 million to disaster relief following the September 11 attacks.
Spies on the Inside
Another controversial moment in Coca-Cola history happened in 2006, when two Coca-Cola employees were caught trying to sell company secrets to the company's top rival, Pepsi. One of the secrets included information on a beverage still in development. The exchange involved a series of payoffs ranging from $5,000 to $75,000.
World of Coca-Cola
Today, World of Coca-Cola is a 20-acre museum located in Atlanta, Georgia. In 1990, the original museum was located in Underground Atlanta and educated visitors on the history of the Coca-Cola brand. The new complex opened in 2007 and is just blocks away from where John Pemberton created the original Coca-Cola.
The Secret Formula
Speaking of the secret formula for Coca-Cola, it’s said to be heavily guarded in a corporate vault. The recipe is accessible only to top executives. However, a 2011 report published by NPR claimed the hidden formula had been discovered.
A Worldwide Name
There’s no doubt that the Coca-Cola company is well known across the globe. Today, 3.1% of all beverages consumed around the world are Coca-Cola products. That's 1.7 billion beverages out of 55 billion. It has also been reported that the red and white Coca-Cola logo is recognized by 94% of the world's population.
The Biggest Consumers
Today, Coca-Cola is sold virtually everywhere in the world, something its early owners always wanted. People all over the world drink 1.9 billion servings of Coke each day. Interestingly, although the brand began in the U.S., American consumers don’t make up Coke's largest customer base.
Coke's Largest Restaurant Customer
Coca-Cola and McDonald's have had a strong relationship since 1955. That year, Ray Kroc, who was working to expand McDonald's throughout the country, contacted Coke executive Waddy Pratt to make a deal to sell Coke’s sodas in the chain’s restaurants.
In 2009, the Coca-Cola Company launched its Live Positively campaign. The purpose of the campaign was for the company to commit to seven core areas that were key to the company's business sustainability. The goal was for the company to make better choices in regard to the environment and people's daily lives.
Rolling in the Dough
The Coca-Cola brand today is worth an estimated $83.8 billion. That's more than the profits of Budweiser, Subway, Pepsi and KFC combined. With a stacked product portfolio of more than 3,500 beverages (and 500 brands), including sodas, energy drinks and soy-based drinks, it's easy to see why.