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John Pemberton

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John Pemberton

John S. Pemberton
John Stith Pemberton
Born (1831-07-08)July 8, 1831
Knoxville, Georgia, U.S.
Died August 16, 1888(1888-08-16) (aged 57)
Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.
Resting place
Linwood Cemetery in Columbus, Georgia
Occupation Chemist
Known for Coca-Cola
Spouse(s) Ann Eliza Clifford Lewis
Children 1
Parents James Clifford Pemberton, Martha L. Gant

John Stith Pemberton (July 8, 1831 – August 16, 1888) was an American pharmacist, and is best known for being the inventor of Coca-Cola.


Pemberton was born July 8, 1831, in Knoxville, Pemberton House in Columbus.[1][2][3] At that time, Pemberton became the owner of two slaves.[4] The 1860 Slave Schedule lists him as the owner of one 22 year old female slave.[5]

Invention of Coca-Cola

In April 1865 while serving as lieutenant colonel of the Confederate Army's 12th Cavalry Regiment, Georgia State Guard, Pemberton was wounded in the Atlanta."[12]

With public concern about the drug addiction, depression and alcoholism among war veterans, and "neurasthenia", as well as among "highly-strung" Southern women,[13] Pemberton's medicine was advertised as particularly beneficial for "ladies, and all those whose sedentary employment causes nervous prostration".[14]

In 1886, when Fulton County enacted temperance legislation, Pemberton found himself forced to produce a non-alcoholic alternative to his French Wine Coca.[15] Pemberton relied on Atlanta druggist Willis Venable to test and help him perfect the recipe for the beverage, which he formulated by trial and error. With Venable's assistance, Pemberton worked out a set of directions for its preparation that eventually included blending the base syrup with carbonated water by accident when trying to make another glass. Pemberton decided then to sell it as a fountain drink rather than a medicine. 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 its cocaine content would later prompt The Coca-Cola Company to state that the name was "meaningless but fanciful." Robinson also hand wrote the Spencerian script on the bottles and ads. Pemberton made many health claims for his product, touting it as a "valuable brain tonic" that would cure headaches, relieve exhaustion and calm nerves, and marketed it as "delicious, refreshing, pure joy, exhilarating," and "invigorating."

Pemberton sells the business

Soon after Coca-Cola hit the market, Pemberton fell ill and 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.[16] Pemberton had a hunch that his formula "some day will be a national drink," so he attempted to retain a share of the ownership to leave to his son.[16] But Pemberton's son wanted the money. So in 1888 Pemberton and his son sold the remaining portion of the patent to Asa Candler.


Grave of John Pemberton in Columbus, Georgia
John Pemberton died at age 57 in August 1888, poor, sick, addicted to morphine, and a victim of stomach cancer. His body was returned to Confederate military service and his pride in being a Freemason. His son continued to sell an alternative to his father's formula, but only six years later Charles Pemberton died, an opium user himself.[17]

John Pemberton in popular culture

In 2010, the Coca-Cola Company paid tribute to Pemberton as a key character within an advertising campaign called "Secret Formula". Centered on the secret ingredients of Coca-Cola, imagery related to Pemberton was used to make people more aware of Coke's history and mythology.

In 2013, Pemberton was portrayed by Bill Hader in the "Atlanta" episode of Comedy Central's Drunk History, created by Derek Waters.


  1. ^ George B. Griffenhagen, A Guide to Pharmacy Museums and Historical Collections in the United States and Canada, Amer. Inst. History of Pharmacy, 1999, pp. 23–24 [1]
  2. ^ Alice Cromie, Restored America: A Tour Guide: the Preserved Towns, Villages, and Historic City Districts of the United States and Canada, American Legacy Press, 1979, p. 135 [2]
  3. ^ Alice Cromie, Restored towns and historic districts of America: a tour guide, Dutton, 1979, p. 135 [3]
  4. ^ Mark Pendergrast, For God, Country, and Coca-Cola, p. 18
  5. ^ 1860 Slave Schedule for Columbus, GA
  6. ^ (Spring 2012), Vol. 23: 21–24.Muscogiana: Journal of the Muscogee Genealogical SocietyRichard Gardiner, "The Civil War Origin of Coca-Cola in Columbus, Georgia,"
  7. ^ Macmillan (2003), p. 80.Cocaine: An Unauthorized Biography,Dominic Streatfeild,
  8. ^ Norton (2004), p. 152.The Pursuit of Oblivion,Richard Davenport-Hines,
  9. ^ , March 18, 1866EnquirerColumbus
  10. ^ Dominic Streatfeild, meth: An Unauthorized Biography, Macmillan (2003), p. 80.
  11. ^ Richard Davenport-Hines, The Pursuit of Oblivion, Norton (2004), p. 152.
  12. ^ Ledger-EnquirerTim Chitwood, Columbus
  13. ^ John Shelton Reed, Minding The South, University of Missouri Press (2099), p.171.
  14. ^ American Soft Drink and the Company that Makes It, Basic Books: enlarged 2nd edition (2000), p.24.
  15. ^ Is This the Real Thing? Coca-Cola's Secret Formula "Discovered"
  16. ^ a b Mark Pendergrast, For God, Country, and Coca-Cola, p. 34
  17. ^ Mark Pendergrast, For God, Country, and Coca-Cola, p. 45

Further reading

  • Schoenberg, B S (1988), "Coke's the one: the centennial of the "ideal brain tonic" that became a symbol of America.", South. Med. J. (Jan 1988) 81 (1): 69–74,  
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