Coca Cola was invented by Confederate soldier John Pemberton, so why hasn't it been canceled yet?

Coca Cola was invented by Confederate soldier John Pemberton, so why hasn't it been canceled yet?
John Pemberton, Coca Cola (Unknown Author/Public Domain/ Getty Images)

Coca-Cola is one of the most recognizable brands in the world today thanks to the company's savvy marketing skills and, of course, the addictive nature of the drink. Many know of the drink's history as being invented by John Pemberton while experimenting with painkillers that would serve as morphine-free alternatives to morphine. However, it escapes most people's attention that Pemberton was a soldier for the Confederacy. 

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Pemberton had become a doctor at the age of 19 in 1850 but signed up to serve in the frontlines when the Civil War broke out. He served in the Third Cavalry Battalion of the Georgia State Guard, a component of the Confederate Army, and achieved the rank of lieutenant colonel. He didn't serve as a doctor, however. He started as a first lieutenant in a cavalry unit in 1862 and climbed the ranks to lieutenant colonel. He faced his fiercest fighting when Union General James Wilson attacked Columbus in 1865. Pemberton suffered multiple gunshots wounds and even a saber strike to his chest.

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Pemberton would suffer for years from the wounds he took near Columbus and he struggled against an opium addiction, thanks to all the painkillers he was given. Luckily, Pemberton was a skilled pharmacist and chemist and began his own experimenting. Pemberton became aware of a new European product that was already popular in Italy and France, wine infused with extracts from coca leaves. After a new business partnership in 1870, he was able to purchase the equipment to develop even more complex products.

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He eventually created a recipe dubbed Pemberton’s French Wine Coca. The medicine was sold and advertised in Atlanta to war veterans suffering from drug addiction, depression and alcoholism, and to “ladies, and all those whose sedentary employment causes nervous prostration". Due to prohibition in 1886, John Stith had to modify his formula once more to remove the alcohol. The trial and error experimentation process was underway, and eventually, a perfect and “classic” balance was created. This balance still included the two main ingredients, coca leaves and kola nuts as well as carbonated water and syrup. The two key ingredients are, of course, where the drink derived its name from.

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The same reasons which drove Pemberton to invent the drink are what drove him to sell his business. He began to sell off parts of the company because he needed money to support not just his family but also his morphine addiction, according to Mark Pendergrast’s book 'For God, Country, and Coca-Cola: The Definitive History of the Great American Soft Drink and the Company that Makes It'. Just before his death in 1888, Pemberton sold his remaining interest to a businessman named Asa Candler. Though he wanted his son Charley to inherit a part of the business, the younger Pemberton was himself prone to drinking and sold his interest as well.

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It is probably because the company was sold off in its early stages that many do not necessarily connect Coca-Cola to the country's Civil War and the inventor's history of serving in the Confederate army. As over 100 years passed, the brand's catchy logo and "happiness in a bottle" has helped the brand distance itself from the murky past. 

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