The Ideal Brain Tonic

Charles C. Smith, Jr., M.D.
Innominate Society
Retired Professor of Medicine
University of Louisville School of Medicine


It was the best of times and the worst of times. The south had not only suffered a punishing defeat in the war for southern independence but extensive physical destruction wrought by General Sherman had led to an equivalent degree of personal devastation. Bankruptcies were common and increasing numbers of people turned to alcohol for solace. Many of the wounded veterans had the “army disease”- morphine addiction.

Henry Grady for whom Grady Hospital is named, editor of The Atlanta constitution and spokesman for the New South was saying, “We have wiped out the place where Mason and Dixon’s line used to be.” Another Georgian said “Let the young south arises in their might and compete in everything…get rich!”

One of the morphine addicts was John Styth Pemberton. Born in Knoxville, Georgia, in 1831, he attended the Southern Botanical medical college of Georgia at age 17, where he discovered the wisdom of Samuel Thomson, an unlettered New Hampshire herbal practitioner who had published his New Guide to health in 1822 featuring repeated steam baths and massive doses of “screw auger,” an herb named lobelia which caused violent vomiting. This was an improvement over our allopathic predecessors “blistering,” dosing with calomel, and attacks with the lancet. By Pemberton’s time most Thomsonians had become eclectics emphasizing herbal remedies. Pemberton himself set up pharmacy practice in Columbus, Georgia, after a year’s study in Philadelphia and a brief stint in Oglethorpe, Georgia.

Less than a month after he had everything established in Columbus, Fort Sumter was fired on, he organized a home guard of averaged and exempt into Pemberton’s Calvary, was shot and cut by a saber while defending the bridge into town one week after lee’s surrender at Appomattox.

After the war he began to experiment with proprietary items such as Globe Flower cough Syrup, Sweet Southern Bouquet, etc. a perfume, all from local herbs.

It was a great time for proprietary medicine as the country moved toward 1900.

But in 1869 he moved to Atlanta and the best of times developed for Pemberton with a flourishing drug trade but poor management which resulted in bankruptcy. Subsequently he invented such unforgettable as Queen Hair Dye, Triplex Liver Pills, etc.

At this time Freud and others were propounding the coca leaf and cocaine as a wonderful remedy for what “ailed you” but also for morphine addiction. At the same time, 1885, Fulton County and Atlanta voted “dry” in local option election, aided and abetted by the Cracker evangelist, Reverend Sam Jones. Pemberton continued to experiment with anew drink, which mixed the coca leaf and the cola nut containing caffeine. The cola nut had been found in West Africa ad was a supposed cure for intoxication and could double your work output without fatigue. It was alcohol-free and getting ready to sell in the now dry city in 1886. By the way at this time Fred’s friend Carl Koller found that topical cocaine was a great local anesthetic for eye surgery. Freud called him “coca” Koller.

Angelo Mariana of Corsica’s Bordeaux laced with coca leaf became wildly popular, known as Vin Mariana. Notables as Edison, Zola, president McKinley, Queen Victoria, Sarah Bernhardt, Buffalo Bill and three popes gave testimony to it. Pope Leo XIII gave Mariana a gold medal. Te pope lived to 93, dying in 1903. He took the simplest food, a little water. He looked so frail but “his eyes were all radiant with the fire f piety.” The pope’s eyes may have taken their glow from coca as much as from piety. Pemberton himself developed French wine coca, an imitator of Vin Mariana but he improved on it with the cola nut containing a potent alkaloid, caffeine. Here then is a genealogy:

          Vin Mariana
          French Wine Cola
          Coca Cola

Now we fast-forward 99 years. On July 10, 1985, Peter Jennings and ABC News interrupted “General Hospital” to report the old coke was returning. On that day the company received twelve thousand calls. Among Coca-Cola employees the event was called The Second Coming. One caller stated she had just found out she was pregnant and didn’t know which her husband would be happier about- their first child or old Coke’s return.

In April 1985, the top officials with great fanfare had announced the “New Coke.” All the product and consumer research poured into the development of “new coke” had not measured the deep and abiding emotional attachment to the original Coca-Cola.

After the invasion of North Africa, General Eisenhower sent an urgent cablegram: “on early convoy request shipment three million bottled coca-Cola (filled) and complete equipment for bottling, washing, capping the same quantity twice monthly.”

General George Marshall, Commander-In-Chief, issued Circular No. 51: Articles of Necessity and Convenience will be made available to troops overseas in adequate quantities. Commanders could requisition coca-Cola plants by name.

By war’s end there were 64 bottling plants on every continent except Antarctica.

After Eisenhower’s triumphant parade down Fifth Avenue at the end of the war lunch was served at the Statler Hotel and when asked if he needed anything else he said “Could somebody get me a Coke?” After polishing it off the General said he had one more request, “another Coke.”

In a personal interview, Bill Schmidt, Elizabethtown bottler, who has the only real Coca-Cola Museum, told me they received unlimited quantities of syrup during WWII of their proximity to Fort Knox.

Ninety-two year-old Poet Laureate James Still of Kentucky who was a top sergeant in the Army/Air force in North Africa, confirmed the Cola-Cola arrival at his airfield.

Our eldest son formerly went up to Hattiesburg, MS, from his practice in new Orleans when U of L played southern Miss and sat on the bench with Rudy Ellis and Merry may. When I asked him if he went to the dressing room during halftime to listen to Coach Crum he said “No!” they had free Cokes in the press room! When I once bought four 2-liter bottles of Coca-Cola on “special” at the local service station my four children drank them all over one weekend. When I worked in the company store during WWII after school Cokes were hidden by the employees in tanks of commodes because they were in short supply. When I worked as a “soda-jerk” in the middle 1940’s a “dope” was the most popular drink in our southeastern Kentucky town.

Now back to 1886, Atlanta, alliteration was in vogue at that time so one of the four principals on the Pemberton company, Frank Robinson, came up with Coca-Cola and also the Spenserian handwriting destined to become the famous logo. The first ad used the adjectives “delicious and refreshing” and the syrup being produced by Pemberton was described as an “ideal brain tonic’ useful for treating “sick headaches, neuralgia, hysteria and melancholy.”

The syrup was sold in containers to drugstores and mixed with water. The first sales were at Jacob’s Drugstore in Atlanta.

The origin of carbonated water mixed with the syrup varies with the source, some saying it was there form the start, others that a young lady with a headache had ordered “Coca-Cola quick” and the soda-jerk mistakenly pulled the lever for carbonated water and the result was a great taste!

So it had been the worst of times, the best of times, and the worst of times, then the best of times but it was again the worst of times.

Pemberton did not make a profit. In the first year he sold 25 gallons of syrup for $ 50.00 but $73.96 had been spent on advertising. Pemberton’s health was failing and he didn’t have the capital to properly advertise. He then sold his rights for $283.39 on July 27,1888 and was dead by August 16,1888.

The Legend

So what led this status of an American symbol so strongly identified with the United States, that when countries fall out with us politically, Coke’s exile sometimes closely follows the expulsion of our ambassador.

Dr. Pemberton sold his rights to a Georgian named Asa Griggs Candler, a wealthy pharmacist, in 1888. Asa had fallen out of a wagon as a boy and the wheel ran over his head just above the ears and ever since he had a horrific constant “migraine” headache. He liked the drink personally and it helped his headaches.

So Coca-Cola was first marketed as a cure for headaches. He enlisted friends and family to introduce the product in surrounding areas. Asa’s brother, Warren Candler, was a Methodist minister living in Nashville and he wrote to him about introducing Coca-Cola to Tennessee and he did. Asa was against Warren becoming president of Emory College in Oxford, Georgia. Later when Andrew Carnegie offered a million dollars to Vanderbilt University if it would become nondenominational, Asa Candler gave $ 1 million to Emory College to transform it into a fine university and it moved to Atlanta. Thus, he thwarted the Godless Yankee capitalist who was removing Methodist influence in higher education in the south.

Most of my ministers have been graduates of the Candler School of Theology at Emory University. Rev. David Allen said a “dope” party organized at Emory when he was a student was squashed by the administration. When he was sent as a Methodist missionary to farthest Africa, the Coca-Cola Bottling Plant was just up the river.

During the years of aggressive marketing Candler saw that much greater rewards were in refreshment than in medicinal properties and the cocaine was out by 1903, thanks to protestant ministers. But I suspect more because much greater rewards would be gleaned as a refreshment than as a medicine. Then there was a tax on medicine.

Other similar drinks were most notably Dr. Pepper out of Waco, Texas, and for a while Dr. Pepper interests banned sales of Coca Cola in the state of Texas.

The Bottling

Originally sold as syrup to pharmacists by the two pharmacists who had owned it the idea of bottling the drink may have risen when Atlanta boys in Cuba during the Spanish-American War wanted their Coca-Cola. The two men who came up with the bottling idea did go to Cuba according to Mr. Schmidt of Elizabethtown. They were Ben Franklin Thomas and Joseph Whitehead from Chattanooga. Asa Candler was not convinced there was money to be had here. He was a pharmacist and wanted to sell to pharmacies. So he proposed selling bottling rights in perpetuity for the entire country for $1.00, but he would sell the syrup. In talking with a local attorney who was involved in a suit wherein the bottling rights were removed from the bottler in Hazard, Kentucky, for certain malfeasances. Coca-Cola Bottling Company Thomas was to take over from the locals.

The Bottle

But soon the product was being copied in bottles and a plan to thwart that resulted in the Root Glass Company in Terre Haute, Indiana, producing the bottle in 1914. In the public library the company auditors consulted the Encyclopedia Britannica and copied the Cocoa bean instead of the coca leaf. This established the shape of the first bottle, which was too fat for subsequent dispensers, and was trimmed to present shape. It was also known as a Maw West bottle for several years. This was certainly the first of several containers to be copyrighted symbol such as Haig’s Pinch bottle.

The Six Pack

In 1923, New Orleans bottler, A. B. Freeman, got a new idea; take more Cokes home in a handy cardboard carton-the six-pack. Today, a six-pack means beer and Joe Six-pack is the man pollsters want to poll regarding politics.

During its entire history Coca-Cola has used beautiful women in its ads. In the early 1930s before there was a Sports illustrated swimsuit issue the new Coca-Cola swimsuit ad for summer was eagerly awaited.

The Stock

Coca-Cola stock was issued in 1919 when a syndicate headed by Ernest Woodruff, a banker at Trust Company of Georgia bought the company from the Candler family for fifteen million in cash and ten million in preferred stock sold for forty dollars a share. By 1991, one share had split into 1,152 shares with cumulative dividends of ten thousand plus. If all these dividends had been reinvested the forty would have bee worth two million in 1991 and is up to five million presently.

In the small town of Quincy, Florida, a banker named Mark W. Munroe, but affectionately called “Mr. Pat,” started lending 500 to1000 dollars extra to farmers for Coca-Cola shock when they borrowed money for their farms. Around the 1920s one farmer moved from Columbus, Georgia, and borrowed 2000 dollars to buy forty acres of farmland. Mr. Pat had him borrow $500 more for Coca-Cola stock to use as collateral. The farmer left it in as collateral until age 85 when his lawyer called on the bank and he owned 1 million dollars of stock. The residents of Quincy collectively own 120 million in Coca-Cola stock.

The Advertising

Anyone who has lived on this planet knows the story of Coca-Cola advertising but two sagas stick out. Prior to 1931 Santa was usually depicted wearing blue, yellow green or red and in European art he was tall and gaunt and Clement Moore had depicted him as an elf in “A Visit from St. Nicholas.”

A hard-drinking Swedish artist named Haddon Sundblom created the classic Coca-Cola Santa Claus in 1931, bigger than life, bright red, eternally jolly. Every Christmas Sundblom delivered another eagerly awaited Coca-Cola Santa ad. Santa would be forever a huge, fat, happy man with broad belt and black boots and he would wear Coca-Cola red.

In 1979 the Coca-Cola Company and its bottlers were at war over costs of syrup, Pepsi’s corporate share had grown from 21.4% to 24.2% in ten years and Coca-Cola had grown a mere .3%. It was time for a spectacular ad campaign and the bottlers met in San Francisco. McCann Advertising showed several ads featuring smiling people but the rehearsed smiles were too obviously forced with one exception.

As a wounded black Pittsburgh Steeler “mean “ Joe Greene limped down a stadium tunnel toward the locker room, a shy moon-faced boy holding a 16 ounce Coke timidly called after him: “Mr. Greene, Mr. Greene.” The defeated football player half-turned. “Yeah,” he snarled. The kid stammered, “I just want you t know I think, I think you’re the best ever.” Unmoved by this praise, Greene grunted, “yeah, nice” and started to leave. In desperation, unable to think of anything else, the boy offered his Coke but was rebuffed. “Really you can have it.” With resignation Greene relented, upending the bottle and draining it in one glorious chug. The music swelled while joyful voices harmonized, “Have a Coke and a smile.” As the boy turned away dejectedly the player, now thoroughly refreshed shouted “Hey kid!” and threw him his jersey. Flashing an irresistible smile that made it all right with the world, he headed for the lockers. The mean Joe Greene drama created an instant sensation. Planned for airing in a year, the bottlers stormed the podium demanding immediate release. Thousands of viewers, the media in Newsweek, People, Sports Illustrated, the New York Times, and Good Morning America and the Today Show raved over the ad.

Greene revealed that filming required three grueling days. Tommy Oken, the 10-year-old actor kept muffing his lines on account of his genuine awe for Greene. The final day the football player guzzled sixteen 16-ounce bottles of Coke-Cola and still managed to smile. Greene threw up only after the sixth Coke.

The Formula

Fortune Magazine went to some lengths I 1931 to determine and expose the major formula but could never get past the secret ingredient known as 7x. The original and still secret formula rests in a security deposit box in the Trust Company of Georgia, now Sun Trust Bank.

The original formula on the Internet labeled only with an “x”is:

          Citrate Caffeine 1oz
          Est. Vanilla 1 oz
          Flavoring 2 ½ oz
          F.E. Coco 4 oz
          Critric Acid 3oz
          Lime Juice 1 quart
          Sugar 30 lbs
          Water 2 ½ gallons
          Caramel Sufficient
          Oil orange 80
          Oil lemon 120
          Oil nutmeg 40
          Oil Cinnamon 40
          Oil coriander 20
          Oil neroli 40
          Alcohol 1 quart
          Let stand 24 hours.

The flavoring section is the “7x” portion of the formula there are only 6 ingredients. Perhaps he later added vanilla. F.E. coco means fluidextract of coco, but kola nuts is not mentioned. Pemberton preferred Merck’s Citrated Caffeine from Germany.

Beginning with Candler no one referred to the ingredients by name. Instead sugar was #1, Caramel #2, Caffeine #3, phosphoric acid #4, etc.

The amount of cocaine has been hard to ascertain. Best guess is .13 grains or 8.45 mgms per drink. But the combination with caffeine enhances cocaine effect. A normal dose of cocaine snorted on the street is 20 to 30 milligrams. Of course, someone who drank five straight glass of coca-Cola would have gotten 40 mgm of cocaine.

There is also the mystique of only three people knowing the magic formula at any one time, which is apparently true in that myocardial infarctions overseas have resulted in shuffling and new initiates into the technical hierarchy, such as Roberto Gouzieta.

Robert Woodruff

Robert, son of Ernest the banker, was Coca-Cola from 1923 when at the age of 33 he took over the presidency. He was a Sunday School Pupil of Asa Candler, flunked out of Emory College but eventually he was the “Boss” to everyone in Atlanta. He was a retiring man who noted he only wanted his name in the Atlanta constitution if found “Dead in a cathouse.” His immense contributions to Emory Medical School and the Atlanta Art Center bear his name. Undoubtedly the arrival of the Emory Medical School in the 40s with Eugene Stead, Paul Beeson, Ivan Dennett and later Willis Hurst are directly attributable to the University’s Coca-Cola Money.

Now the School of Business is named for Roberto Gouzieta, late president of Coca Cola.

The Medical Aspects of Coke

I reviewed the Index Medicus and Surgeon General’s Index from 1886 the library and no early mention could be found. Since the advent of the computer many articles are found:

          1.      The effect of Coca-Cola on Itraconazole absorption and ketoconazole.

          2.       The effect of irrigants on clogging rates in feeding tubes.

          3.      The spermicidal effect of soft drinks x 2.

          4.      Enamel softening.

          5.      Cocaine abuse in North America.

          6.      Vitamin B12 deficiency of nutritional origin.

          7.      Potassium in Coca-Cola

          8.      Absorption of caffeine form tea., coffee and coca-cola

          9.      Duodenal ph in health and duodenal ulcer disease.

          10.  Caffeine in sport.

          11.  Is classic Coca-Cola the real thing?

          12.   The use of coca- Cola in bolus obstruction in the esophagus.

I have always been fascinated by Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar’s “ there is a tide in the affairs of man.”

In my Innominate papers a CPA who authored many of the papers of the Committee on the Costs of Medical Care grabbed his idea of family prepayment of care and founded the Blue Cross Commission. A rabbi took his regional religion from Asia to Europe, and an amateur art critic who was making fourtune on nose drops latched on to paintings no one yet appreciated. Now we have a pharmacist who realized a concoction had compelling properties of a potential magic elixir and a playboy rich man’s son took the beverage to similar worldwide status as the rabbi’s religion.

As the century ends our country again is awash in proprietary medicine and cocaine is again behind every “bush.”

The world of Coca-Cola, Atlanta.

Graham, Elizabeth Candler. Classic cooking with Coca-Cola. Hambleton-Hill. 1994

Oliver, Thomas. The Real Coke, The Real Story. Random House. 1986.

Pendergrast, Mark. For God, Country and Coca-Cola. Simon and Schuster. 1993.

Schmidt, William. Personal Communication.

Schmidt, Jan and Bill. The Schmidt Museum Collection of Coca-Cola Memorabilia Taylor Publishing Company.

Schoenberg, B.S. Coke’s The One, Southern Medical Journal. 1998. Jan. 81 (1): 69-74.