From a health tonic to the world’s favorite soda

A pharmacist created a health tonic and formed the basis for the world’s largest beverage company.

To curb his morphine dependency following an injury sustained as a Confederate soldier in the Civil War, Georgia pharmacist John Pemberton developed and sold Pemberton’s French Wine Coca, an alcoholic health tonic inspired by Vin Mariani, a coca wine — meaning it contained then-legal coca leaves.

A magnifying glass hovers over a bottle of Coca-Cola against a purple background.

Pemberton switched to a nonalcoholic version after a countywide prohibition went into effect. His bookkeeper, Frank Robinson, suggested he call it Coca-Cola, as it was made with coca leaves and kola nuts.

Shortly before his death in 1888, Pemberton sold his ownership in the beverage. It was under another pharmacist, Asa Griggs Candler, and Robinson’s stead that the formula was modified, bottled, and ultimately became the world’s most popular soda — now both cocaine- and kola nut-free.

Fun fact: An earlier, unsuccessful version of Pemberton’s tonic, made with a toxic flower known as buttonbush, was called Dr Tuggle’s Compound Syrup of Globe Flower.

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