John Pemberton PDF Print E-mail
Friday, 31 October 2008 09:18

John Stith Pemberton

Born: January 8, 1831, Georgia

Died: August 16, 1888, Georgia

Age: 57

Notable because: Graduated Medical school at age 19. Fought as a confederate soldier. (Lieutenant Colonel). Became a morphine addict and then invented Coca Cola, in part as a cocaine inclusive cure for addictions to morphine and opium. Sold it too cheap and regretted his actions.


John Pemberton was an American druggist and the inventor of Cola.

John Pemberton was the son of James Clifford Pemberton (b. 1803 in North Carolina) and Martha L. Worsham Gent (b. about 1791 in Virginia). James and Martha married July 20, 1828, in Crawford County, Georgia. Martha was the daughter of Archer Worsham (born in Virginia) and Nancy Clark Smith from Baldwin County, Georgia. The Pemberton family moved to Rome, Georgia, and John attended medical school in Macon, receiving his degree at the age of nineteen.

Pemberton rejected heroic medicine, popularized by Benjamin Rush, which attempted to cure through bloodletting. Rather, he attended a school in the tradition of Samuel Thompson, a controversial herbalist who cured through steam baths and the ingestion of lobelia. Pemberton also received a graduate degree in pharmacy. Thompson, like Pemberton, made his living selling patent medicines of dubious value (but, no more dubious than the prevailing medicine of the time). Pemberton married Wesleyan College student Ann Eliza Clifford Lewis and moved to Columbus, Georgia in 1853. The couple had a son, Charley Pemberton, born in 1854.

Pemberton fought for the Confederacy, rising to the rank of lieutenant colonel in the 3rd Georgia Cavalry regiment.

It is likely that Pemberton served in either the Georgia reserve force or the Georgia State Line, perhaps commanding a contingent of other cavalrymen from Muscogee County. He was, as were other state soldiers, allowed to go home by early 1865; however, his city of Columbus was attacked by Maj. Gen James H. Wilson on Easter Day, 1865. Records show Pemberton gathered his men and fought Wilson's Raiders in Girard, Alabama (now Phenix City), just across the Chattahoochee River from Columbus. It is said, though no record shows this, that he was shot once and slashed with a saber and would have died had his friend James Carter not grabbed the reins of his horse and led him from the battlefield. His severe wounds from the war led him, as many other civil war veterans wounded in battle, to morphine addiction.

After the war, Pemberton worked as a druggist in Columbus and built a laboratory where he made and sold medicines, photographic chemicals, and cosmetic products, including a popular perfume he called Sweet Southern Bouquet. He moved his family to Atlanta in 1870 and in March of that year was given USĀ patentĀ 100439. Pemberton served on the first pharmacy licensing board in the state, established a modern chemical laboratory that was the first state-run facility to test soil and crop chemicals, and was a trustee of Emory University School of Medicine. He assisted the state of Georgia in catching and prosecuting so-called "snake oil salesmen" who sold fake chemicals to farmers with the promise they would help their crops grow.

His wife died when she was 8 months pregnant with twins.

When he was a druggist and chemist in Atlanta, Georgia, Pemberton began work on a coca and kola (cola) nut beverage. It was intended to stop headaches and calm nervousness, but others insist he was attempting to create a pain reliever for himself and other wounded Confederate veterans. He began this process at his Columbus laboratory, but soon after the war, moved his entire operation to Atlanta.

Pemberton used an old family recipe from his African American maid's family for the original Coca Cola formula, as a nonalcoholic alternative to his French Wine Coca in the event that the pending national temperance movement prohibited the sale of the latter. Frank Mason Robinson came up with the name "Coca Cola" for the alliterative sound, which was popular among other wine medicines of the time. Although the name quite clearly refers to the two main ingredients, the controversy over cocaine content would later prompt The Coca-Cola Company to state that it is "meaningless but fanciful." Robinson also hand wrote the Spencerian script on the bottles and ads. Pemberton also made many health claims for his product and marketed it as 'delicious, refreshing, exhilarating, invigorating' and touted as a 'valuable brain tonic' that would cure headaches, relieve exhaustion and calm nerves.

In 1894, Coke was for the first time sold in bottles. During World War II, bottling plants were set up in Europe, Africa, and the Pacific.

Pemberton was plagued by his morphine addiction and imbibed his cocawine and soda in an effort to control the addiction (both beverages contained coca leaf, of which cocaine is isolated). The original formula allegedly called for 8.46 mg of cocaine, while an average dose of the street drug is between 15-35 mg. However, the effects of the coca leaf is greatly compounded by the presence of caffeine from the kola nut. Coca-Cola was originally advertised as a cure for morphine and opium addictions among a multitude of other health benefits.

Pemberton's behavior grew increasingly erratic as he neared the end of his life. He sold the rights to manufacture Coca-Cola twice. First, to two investors, from whom Asa Griggs Candler acquired his stake in the business. Then, to three more investors who had no knowledge of the previous sale and were left without a dime when Candler acquired exclusive rights to the formula in 1888.

Pemberton's son Charley returned to Atlanta that same year and claimed his father had promised him a stake in the business. At first, Pemberton insisted that Charley be included in the enterprise that also included Candler and Robinson. However, a principal investor grew tired of the alcoholic young man's antics. In an effort to make peace, Pemberton declared that Charley owned the rights to the name, but not the formula. Charley then began to manufacture his own version of the popular beverage.

This complex situation was resolved when Candler acquired the formula from John Pemberton and two investors to whom Pemberton had sold partial rights in order to fund his addiction, Margaret Dozier and Woolfolk Walker. However, later handwriting analysis revealed that Pemberton's signature on the bill of sale was most likely a forgery, and the Pemberton family long after suspected foul play.

Pemberton died on August 16, 1888, only a few months after Candler incorporated the first Coca Cola Corporation. He is buried in Linwood Cemetery in Columbus, Georgia.


Last Updated on Tuesday, 02 December 2008 16:31

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