a history of coca-cola

the decade of the 1890's

1890 – Coca-Cola is a deceptively simple business with an uncomplicated product. Made of nothing more than cane sugar, water, caffeine, caramel, preservatives and flavorings; Coca-Cola is smelly, sticky and messy but not terribly complex to produce. Candler's corporate headquarters and syrup production facility in Atlanta employs only 20 people and sells 8,855 gallons of syrup. More than four times the 1889 sales.

1891 – Candler devotes full time to making proprietary medicines and moves to the second and third floors of 42 1/2 Decatur Street. Coca-Cola was made on Saturdays in a forty gallon kettle. Robinson tastes every batch of syrup and gives it his blessing before it leaves the building. Despite having only one full time sales person, sales double to 19,831 gallons of syrup.

​Candler has a batch of Coca-Cola tested for trace elements of cocaine. Tests show that despite the attempts at removal in 1889, the  drink still contains about 1/30th grain of cocaine in 1891. A full grain is considered an "ordinary" dose at the time. Further refinements bring the cocaine content to near zero. Candler believes that the drink must contain a trace of both Coca and Kola to protect the name, since only the name Coca-Cola was protected, not the ingredients.

1892 – To raise capital for expansion, Candler incorporates and forms the Coca-Cola Co. of Georgia. The company issues 1000 shares at $100 each. Candler keeps 50%, gives Robinson 1% (10 shares) and offers the remaining 490 shares for public sale. The company is  unknown outside the South and only 75 shares are sold. Candler and Robinson are forced to build the company themselves by offering free drink coupons to anyone who will take one. Robinson was right. If you tried the drink once, you would return again and again. Over one million free drink tickets are redeemed.

1894 – the first Coca-Cola wall sign painted on a drugstore in Cartersville, Georgia.

​Joesph Biedenharn, of Vicksburg, Mississippi bottles the first Coca-Cola for a summer picnic.

1895 – Syrup plants open in Chicago and Los Angeles.

1898 – To fund the Spanish-American War, the government puts a stamp tax on medicines. Due to the health claims in its advertising, and despite strong arguments made by Candler, Coca-Cola is taxed.

​Coca-Cola's handsome new headquarters is completed. The new building is pronounced by Candler "to be sufficient for all our needs for all time to come". Soon it will be outgrown.

1899 – Benjamin Thomas and Joseph Whitehead persuade Candler to sell them the rights to bottle Coca-Cola. They will be able to bottle Coca-Cola in perpetuity, and supply the demands for it without expense or liability to the Coca-Cola Company, and without interfering with fountain sales. Syrup will be provided to the bottlers at a fixed price per gallon. The sum of dollar for the sale of the rights is never collected.

​Syrup sales reach 281,000 gallons.

​The first Coca-Cola bottling plant opens in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

  • Holding 1 1/8 gallons of Coca-Cola syrup, this iconic dispenser was distributed to retailers beginning about 1896 and ending in 1902.  The dispenser was loaned to soda fountains purchasing 35 or more gallons of syrup.

  • The Baird Clock Company of Plattsburgh, New York were the first to make Coca-Cola branded clocks. Beginning in about 1891 and continuing until the Baird Company's move to Chicago in 1896, they produced multiple versions of this molded papier-mache clock.

  • The 1897 serving tray is the first tray known to be issued by the Coca-Cola Company.  Very few examples of this item  are known to exist in any condition.

  • Many many thousands of these free drink coupons were handed out to potential patrons at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century.  The concept originated with Mr. Robinson and is believed to be the first marketing effort of its type.

  • Since Coca-Cola was originally marketed for its medicinal properties, the statement "Cures Headache and Relieves Exhaustion"  was used extensively in advertising from the 1890's to  as late as 1908. No doubt the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1907 had something to do with the drink's transition away from wanting to be viewed as a headache cure to wanting to be viewed as merely a delicious refreshment.

  • Backbar bottles such as this beautiful early example were used to hold syrups before they were dispensed into the glass. Usually an ounce was mixed with about five ounces of carbonated water then mixed with crushed ice.

  • The heart shaped bookmark is a good example of a novelty advertising item that would get  repeated exposure from an avid reader. These celluloid bookmarks can occasionally still be found tucked away among the pages of an old  book.

  • Joesph Biedenharn, of Vicksburg, Mississippi was first person to bottle Coca-Cola  in 1894. He used  hutchinson style bottles with a wire  and rubber stopper, as did the other subsequent early bottlers. Due to sanitation reasons bottlers switched to new crown closure bottles as soon as they became available.

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