When the name reflects history

soft drink being poured into glass, shot with selective focus

Coca Cola no longer contains cocaine or kola nut - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

There was a wonderful quote in an Irish paper about the lockdown - 'please open the pubs before we all become alcoholic'. 

It is easy to just open the odd bottle of wine or beer every evening in the lockdown without realising the potential problems. So, how about something safe such as Coca Cola, although this might upset my dentist?

The history of Coke has not always been so innocent.

Ever the modest man, in 1863 a French chemist, Angelo Mariani marketed a wine he named after himself. His Vin Mariani was not a traditional wine but was treated with coca leaves. As a result it was 11 per cent alcohol and 6.5 per cent cocaine. 

What he did not realise is that alcohol extracts cocaine from the leaf and enhances the effect of both drugs.

Meanwhile, across the Atlantic in America, a civil war was raging. The hypodermic syringe was a new invention and it was used extensively to inject morphine into injured soldiers.

In hindsight, it is not surprising that many of the soldiers who survived became addicted.  

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One of the morphine addicts was Colonel John Pemberton. When looking for a cure for his morphine addiction, he heard about Vin Mariani.

Without giving any credit to Angelo Mariani, he developed a cocaine wine of his own and marketed it as 'French Wine Cola' although its only connection to France was that he had stolen the idea from a Frenchman. 

His French wine cola also contained the African kola nut which provided caffeine and the name.

He marketed it as a medicine and a cure for, among other diseases, morphine addiction, indigestion, headaches, nerve disorders and impotence.

Unfortunately for Colonel Pemberton, Georgia had always been equivocal about alcohol. It was founded in 1733 as a dry colony although when the first governor left after 12 years the ban on drinking was lifted.

As railways - or should I say 'railroads' - expanded ice could be shipped down and brewing was made easier. Salons became wild and so in 1886, Fulton County Atlanta passed a prohibition law.

This should have been a problem for Colonel Pemberton and his French Wine Cola but, ever resourceful, he removed the alcohol and renamed it Coca Cola as the medicine contained cocaine and kola nut.

He claimed that it offered 'the virtues of coca without the vices of alcohol' and marketed it as a temperance drink.  

Each bottle contained the equivalent of a line of cocaine but was obviously safe as it did not contain any alcohol.

John Pemberton died suddenly in 1888 leaving his share of the business to his son, Charley, who was an alcoholic and opium addict.

John Pemberton’s business partner, Asa Candler, took over the company and Charley Pemberton died at the age of 40 from an opium overdose. 

Cocaine was taken out of Coca Cola in 1903. 

Asa Candler was always destined for success as he shared his first name with today’s Torquay United captain Asa Hall.

In 1919, the Coca Cola Company was bought by a group of investors for $25 million. 

The rest, as the cliché goes, is history.

But is it still 'the real thing?' 

Should it still be called Coca Cola as it no longer contains cocaine or kola nut?

The name reflects its history and there are many other names which reflect history more than the current day.

We say that the cruise liners sail in or out of the Bay but I have not seen any sails, Torre Abbey does not have any monks and Bovey Tracey still has Station Road.

Turning from beer or wine to Coca Cola is a healthy move but Coke would never have been invented without Angelo Mariani’s wine containing cocaine and alcohol and Colonel Pemberton’s addiction to morphine.

And his addiction would not have happened without the American Civil War and the invention of the hypodermic syringe.

Out of these terrible events came something positive, or at least Coca Cola.