John Pemberton, known as “Doc” was injured in the Civil War when he tried to block a bridge leading into the heart of Columbus. As he fell back in pain, a Union soldier cut a deep slash from chest to stomach leaving Pemberton near dead. Back home, his injuries left him in contact pain. Like so many soldiers, he used morphine to ease the pain. After a while, the morphine’s effectiveness and he needed more frequent doses eventually developed a full-blown addiction .
Doc, who was a chemist before the war, invented drugs to ease pain. His goal was a non-addictive replacement for morphine. Finally, he created what he was looking for, a combination of wine, coca leave kola nut, and an aromatic shrub called damiana. He called it Pemberton’s French Wine Coca.
There was no FDA (Federal Drug Administration) so Pemberton was free to make claims about the tonic’s medical benefits. From an ad he placed in the newspaper in 1885:
…French Wine Coca is endorsed by over 20,000 of the most learned and scientific medical men in the world…French Wine Coca, infallible in curing all who are afflicted with any nerve trouble, dyspepsia, mental and physical exhaustion, all chronic…wonderful invigorator of the sexual organs and will cure seminal weakness…
Coke did not do so well in its first year and Doc Pemberton died in August 1888. He never saw the commercial success he had been seeking.
After Pemberton’s death, a man named Asa Griggs Candler rescued the business. In 1891, he became the sole owner of Coca-Cola. He hired traveling salesmen to pass out coupons for a free coke. Chandler advertised Coca-Cola syrup, a patented medicine, on posters and in calendars, making it a national brand. His claim was that it could get rid of fatigue and headaches.
In 1898, Congress passed a tax (on all medicine) in the wake of the Spanish-American war. Now Chandler wanted Coca-Cola to be sold as a beverage. He won the court battle and from then on, Coca-Cola was considered a soda drink. Soon after, Coca-Cola vending machines covered the U.S. landscape.