Coca-Cola history began in 1886 when the curiosity of an Atlanta pharmacist, Dr. John S. Pemberton, led him to create a distinctive tasting soft drink that could be sold at soda fountains. He created a flavored syrup, took it to his neighborhood pharmacy, where it was mixed with carbonated water and deemed “excellent” by those who sampled it. Dr. Pemberton’s partner and bookkeeper, Frank M. Robinson, is credited with naming the beverage “Coca-Cola” as well as designing the trademarked, distinct script, still used today.
The first servings of Coca-Cola were sold for 5 cents per glass. During the first year, sales averaged a modest nine servings per day in Atlanta. Today, daily servings of Coca-Cola beverages are estimated at 1.8 billion globally.
Prior to his death in 1888, just two years after creating what was to become the world’s #1-selling sparkling beverage, Dr. Pemberton sold portions of his business to various parties, with the majority of the interest sold to Atlanta businessman, Asa G. Candler. Under Mr. Candler’s leadership, distribution of Coca-Cola expanded to soda fountains beyond Atlanta. In 1894, impressed by the growing demand for Coca-Cola and the desire to make the beverage portable, Joseph Biedenharn installed bottling machinery in the rear of his Mississippi soda fountain, becoming the first to put Coca-Cola in bottles. Large scale bottling was made possible just five years later, when in 1899, three enterprising businessmen in Chattanooga, Tennessee secured exclusive rights to bottle and sell Coca-Cola. The three entrepreneurs purchased the bottling rights from Asa Candler for just $1. Benjamin Thomas, Joseph Whitehead and John Lupton developed what became the Coca-Cola worldwide bottling system.
Among the biggest challenges for early bottlers, were imitations of the beverage by competitors coupled with a lack of packaging consistency among the 1,000 bottling plants at the time. The bottlers agreed that a distinctive beverage needed a standard and distinctive bottle, and in 1916, the bottlers approved the unique contour bottle. The new Coca-Cola bottle was so distinctive it could be recognized in the dark and it effectively set the brand apart from competition. The contoured Coca-Cola bottle was trademarked in 1977.
The first marketing efforts in Coca-Cola history were executed through coupons promoting free samples of the beverage. Considered an innovative tactic back in 1887, couponing was followed by newspaper advertising and the distribution of promotional items bearing the Coca-Cola script to participating pharmacies.