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Urban Legends

The Origin of Coca-Cola

The Legend

Coca-Cola was a non-carbonated drink until a soda jerk accidentally put soda water in Coke syrup.


Behind the Legend

There are bits of truth in this little legend, but the reality behind the situation is much more complex and not nearly as glamorous.

In 1886, Dr. John "Penny" Pemberton owned a reasonably successful bottled-beverage company in Georgia. He was driving down the street with a wagon full of his wares one day when his horse was spooked by another delivery wagon that came around a corner too quickly. In the ensuing confusion, the two horses became entangled and smashed through the front window of a dry goods store, their respective wagons close behind.

It was a horrible accident. The horses, hurt by the window glass, panicked and went wild in the store, badly injuring several employees and shoppers. Both wagon drivers were also injured and required medical attention. But amidst the chaos, an amazing discovery was made.

A young boy was passing the scene of the accident. He noticed a puddle of bubbling brownish liquid just inside the shattered store window and, taking care to avoid the broken glass, tasted it. "Wow! This is great!" he said, and invited his little friends over to "have some of this brown stuff and a smile." Apparently soda water from Pemberton's wagon had mixed with kola nuts and powdered cocoa from the other wagon and sugar and other ingredients from the dry goods store's display window and spontaneously created a new beverage. While waiting for someone to help him with his horrible head wound, Pemberton had the presence of mind to write down the names of the concoction's ingredients and he later used those notes to recreate the beverage in a laboratory.

How do we know that this origin story is true? Simple -- it comes to us directly from the Coca-Cola company's public relations department and, by their own admission, they wouldn't lie about something this important.


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