Today in 1886, a Georgia pharmacist, John Pemberton, perfected a headache and hangover remedy he’d cooked up over a fire in his backyard. It contained coca leaves and extract of kola nut, and he advertised it as an “Esteemed Brain Tonic and Intellectual Beverage.” He had been making something called “Pemberton’s French Wine Coca,” but Atlanta had just passed a prohibition law, and he had to come up with an alcohol-free formula. He sweetened the new elixir with sugar instead of wine, and his bookkeeper suggested he name the beverage “Coca-Cola.”
Soon after Coca-Cola hit the market, Pemberton fell ill and was nearly bankrupt. Sick and desperate, he began selling rights to his formula to his business partners in Atlanta. Part of his motivation to sell actually derived from his expensive continuing morphine addiction. Pemberton had a hunch that his formula might “someday become a national drink,” and attempted to retain a share of the ownership to leave to his son. But Pemberton’s son wanted the money. So in 1888 Pemberton and his son sold the remaining portion of the patent.
Coca-Cola is now the most widely recognized brand in the world. In the years since its first appearance, it has developed an underground reputation as a sovereign laundry additive, ham glaze, and rust remover.