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Coca-Cola (also known as Coke) is a popular carbonated cola soft drink sold in stores, restaurants and vending machines in over one hundred and forty countries. It is produced by The Coca-Cola Company, which is also occasionally referred to as Coca-Cola or Coke. It is one of the world's most recognizable and widely sold commercial brands. Coke's major rival is Pepsi.

Originally intended as a patent medicine when it was invented in the late 19th century, Coca-Cola was bought out by shrewd businessman Asa Griggs Candler, whose aggressive marketing tactics led Coke to its dominance of the world soft drink market throughout the 20th century. Although faced with urban legends of perverse side-effects on the health of consumers and accusations of monopolistic practices, Coca-Cola has remained a popular soft drink well into the first decade of the 21st century.



Early years

Coca-Cola was invented by John S. Pemberton, a former lieutenant colonel in the Confederate States Army, in 1886 in Columbus, Georgia, originally as a cocawine called Pemberton's French Wine Coca.

The beverage was named Coca-Cola because originally, the stimulant mixed in the beverage was cocaine, which came from coca leaves of South America. Also, the drink was flavored using kola (Cola) nuts. Today, the stimulant has been changed to caffeine instead, but the flavoring is still done with kola nuts and the coca leaf. The cocaine, however, has been extracted from the leaves and the drink contains no trace of the drug. It was initially sold as a patent medicine for five cents a glass at soda fountains, which were popular in America at the time thanks to a belief that carbonated water was good for the health. It was relaunched as a soft drink to accord with the principles of the Temperance movement. The first sales were made at Jacob's Pharmacy in Atlanta, Georgia on May 8, 1886, and for the first eight months only nine drinks were sold each day. Pemberton ran the first advertisement for the beverage on May 29 of the same year in the Atlanta Journal.

Asa Griggs Candler bought out Pemberton and his partners in 1887 and began aggressively marketing the product — the efficacy of this concerted advertising campaign would not be realized until much later. By the time of its 50th anniversary, the drink had reached the status of a national icon.

Coca-Cola was sold in bottles for the first time on March 12, 1894 and cans of Coke first appeared in 1955. The first bottling of Coca-Cola occurred in Vicksburg, Mississippi at the Biedenharn Candy Company in 1891. Its proprietor was Joseph A. Biedenharn. The original bottles were Biedenharn bottles, very different from the much later hobble-skirt design that is now so familiar. Asa Candler was tentative about bottling the drink, but the two entrepreneurs who proposed the idea were so persuasive that Candler signed a contract giving them control of the procedure. However, the loosely-termed contract proved to be problematic for the company for decades to come. Legal matters were not helped by the decision of the bottlers to subcontract to other companies — in effect, becoming parent bottlers.

When the United States entered World War II, Coke was provided free to American soldiers, as a patriotic drink. The popularity of the drink exploded as American soldiers returned home from the war with a taste for the drink.

For more corporate history, see The history of the Coca-Cola Company.

New Coke to the present

New Coke stirred up a controversy when it replaced the original Coca-Cola in 1985. Coca-Cola Classic was reinstated within a few months of New Coke's introduction into the market.
New Coke stirred up a controversy when it replaced the original Coca-Cola in 1985. Coca-Cola Classic was reinstated within a few months of New Coke's introduction into the market.

In 1985, Coca-Cola, amid much publicity, attempted to change the formula of the drink. Some authorities believe that New Coke, as the reformulated drink was called, was invented specifically to respond to its commercial competitor, Pepsi. Double-blind taste tests indicated that most consumers preferred the taste of Pepsi (which has more lemon oil, less orange oil, and uses vanillin rather than vanilla) to Coke. New Coke was reformulated in a way that emulated Pepsi. Followup taste tests revealed that most consumers preferred the taste of New Coke to both Coke and Pepsi. The reformulation was led by the then-CEO of the company, Roberto Goizueta, and the President Don Keough.

It is unclear what part long-time company president Robert W. Woodruff played in the reformulation. Goizueta claims that Woodruff endorsed it a few months before his death in 1985; others have pointed out that, as the two men were alone when the matter was discussed, Goizueta might have misinterpreted the wishes of the dying Woodruff, who could speak only in monosyllables. It has also been alleged that Woodruff might not have been able to understand what Goizueta was telling him.

The commercial failure of New Coke therefore came as a grievous blow to the management of the Coca-Cola Corporation. It is possible that customers would not have noticed the change if it had been made secretly or gradually, and thus brand loyalty could have been maintained. Coca-Cola management was unprepared, however, for the nostalgic sentiments the drink aroused in the American public; some compared changing the Coke formula to rewriting the American Constitution.

The new Coca-Cola formula subsequently caused a public backlash. Censored page, from Seattle, Washington, USA, founded the Old Coke Drinkers of America organization, which attempted to sue the company, and lobbied for the formula of Old Coke to be released into the public domain. This and other protests caused the company to return to the old formula under the name Coca-Cola Classic on July 10, 1985. The company was later accused of performing this volte-face as an elaborate ruse to introduce a new product while reviving interest in the original. The company president responded to the accusation by declaring: "We are not that stupid, or that smart."

The Coca-Cola Company is the world's largest consumer of natural vanilla extract. When New Coke was introduced in 1985, this had a severe impact on the economy of Madagascar, a prime vanilla exporter, since New Coke used vanillin, a less-expensive synthetic substitute. Purchases of vanilla more than halved during this period. But the flop of New Coke brought a recovery.

Meanwhile, the market share for New Coke had dwindled to only 3% by 1986. The company renamed the product "Coke II" in 1992 (not to be confused with "Coke C2", a reduced-sugar cola launched by Coca-Cola in 2004). However, sales falloff caused a severe cutback in distribution. By 1998, it was sold in only a few places in the midwestern U.S.

Coca-Cola's advertising

Coca-Cola's advertising has had a significant impact on American culture, and is frequently credited with the "invention" of the modern image of Santa Claus as an old man in red-and-white garments; however, while the company did in fact start promoting this image in the 1930s in its winter advertising campaigns, it was already common before that [1] . In the 1970s, a song from a Coca-Cola commercial called "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing", produced by Billy Davis, became a popular hit single, but there is no evidence that it did anything to increase sales of the soft drink.

Coca-Cola has a policy of avoiding using children younger than the age of 12 in any of its advertising as a result of a lawsuit from the beginning of the 20th century that alleged that Coke's caffeine content was dangerous to children. However, in recent times, this has not stopped the company from targeting young consumers. In addition, it has not been disclosed in exact terms how safe Coke is for consumption by young children (or pregnant mothers).

Coke's advertising has been rather pervasive, as one of Woodruff's stated goals was to ensure that everyone on Earth drank Coca-Cola as their preferred beverage. Advertising for Coke is now almost ubiquitous, especially in southern areas of North America, such as Atlanta, where Coke was born. The 1996 Summer Olympics were hosted in Atlanta, and as a result, Coca-Cola effectively received free advertising. Coca-Cola was also the first-ever sponsor of the Olympic games, at the 1928 games in Amsterdam.

During the 1980s, Pepsi-Cola ran a series of television advertisements showing people participating in taste tests in which they expressed a preference for Pepsi over Coke. Coca-Cola ran ads to combat Pepsi's ads in an incident sometimes referred to as the cola wars; one of Coke's ads compared the so-called Pepsi challenge to two chimpanzees deciding which tennis ball was furrier. Thereafter, Coca-Cola regained its leadership in the market.

In an attempt to broaden its portfolio, Coca-Cola purchased Columbia Pictures in 1982. Columbia provided subtle publicity through Coke product placements in many of its films while under Coke's ownership. However, after a few early successes, Columbia began to underperform, and was dropped by the company in 1989.

Coca-Cola has gone through a number of different advertising slogans in its long history, including "The pause that refreshes", "I'd like to buy the world a Coke", and "Coke is it" (see Coca-Cola slogans).

Controversies surrounding the Coca-Cola drink

Urban legends about Coca-Cola

Coca-Cola has been the target of urban legends decrying the drink for its supposedly copious amounts of acid (its pH value of 2.5 is midway between vinegar and gastric acid), or the "life-threatening" effects of its carbonated water. These urban legends usually take the form of "fun facts" — for example, "Coke can dissolve a tooth in 24-48 hours"; "highway troopers use Coke to clean blood from highways after accidents"; or "somebody once died in a Coke-drinking competition". All of these stories are false, and evidence has been presented in numerous cases against Coca-Cola since the 1920s that decisively proves that the drink is not more harmful than comparable soft drinks. It contains less citric acid than an orange. [2] [3] [4] . However, one unusual use for coke that is not an urban legend is as a rust-control substance - the phosphoric acid in coke converts iron oxide to iron phosphate , and as such can be used as an initial treatment for corroded iron and steel objects being renovated, etc.

The numerous urban legends about Coca-Cola have led the Urban Legends Reference Pages to devote a whole section of their site to "Cokelore ".

Suspected adverse long-term health effects

While many nutritionists believe that "soft drinks and other calorie-rich, nutrient-poor foods can fit into a good diet" [5] , it is generally agreed that Coca-Cola and other soft drinks can be harmful if consumed to excess, particularly to young children whose soda consumption competes with, rather than complementing, a balanced diet. Studies have shown that regular soft drink users have a lower intake of calcium (which can contribute to osteoporosis), magnesium, ascorbic acid, riboflavin, and vitamin A. [6] [7]

The drink has also aroused criticism for its use of phosphoric acid [8] and caffeine [9] , though many of these criticisms have been dismissed by the industry as urban myths. [10] [11]

For more, see phosphoric acid in food.

Varieties of Coca-Cola soft drink

Diet Coke was introduced in 1982 to offer an alternative to dieters worried about the high number of calories present in Classic Coke.
Diet Coke was introduced in 1982 to offer an alternative to dieters worried about the high number of calories present in Classic Coke.

There are many varieties of Coca-Cola produced by the company such as Diet Coke (introduced in 1982), which uses aspartame (NutraSweet brand), a synthetic phenylalanine-based sweetener, to eliminate the sugar content of the drink; Caffeine-free Coke ; Kosher for Passover Coke (corn-sweetner is replaced with cane sugar); Cherry Coke (1985); Diet Cherry Coke (1986); Diet Coke with Lemon (2001); Vanilla Coke (2002); Diet Vanilla Coke (2002); and Diet Coke with Lime (2004).

In 2004, perhaps in response to the burgeoning popularity of low-carbohydrate diets such as the Atkins Diet, Coca-Cola announced its intention to develop and sell a low-carbohydrate alternative to Coke Classic, dubbed Coca-Cola C2. C2 contains a mix of high fructose corn syrup, aspartame, sucralose, and acesulfame potassium. C2 is designed to more closely emulate the taste of Coca-Cola Classic than Diet Coke does. Even with less than half of the calories and carbohydrates of standard soft drinks, C2 is not a replacement for zero-calorie soft drinks such as Diet Coke. C2 went on sale in the US on June 11 2004, and in Canada in August 2004.

Coca-Cola is the best-selling soft drink in most countries. Nevertheless, there are some places like Scotland, where the locally produced Irn Bru is more popular, and Quebec and Prince Edward Island, Canada, where Pepsi is the market leader. Coke is less popular in other places, including some Middle Eastern and Asian countries such as the Palestinian territories and India — in the latter, due to suspicions regarding the health standards of the drink, and in the former, due to anti-American sentiment or the perception that Coca-Cola supports Israel. Mecca Cola, an "Islamically correct" brand, has become a hit in the Middle East in the past few years.


  • Pendergrast, Mark: For God, Country, and Coca-Cola: The Definitive History of the Great American Soft Drink and the Company That Makes It. New York: Basic Books, 2000 (second edition; ISBN 0465054684).
  • Zyman, Sergio: The End of Marketing as We Know It. New York: HarperBusiness (1st edition (June 1, 1999) ISBN 0887309860).

See also

External links

  • Company website
  • A page about New Coke
  • Allegations of copyright problems with some of Coca-Cola's corporate identity
  • Coca-Cola urban legends (or not)
  • Liquid Candy: How Soft Drinks are Harming Americans' Health
  • Coca-Cola Myths & Rumors
  • History of Coca-Cola
  • Coca Cola Recipe

Last updated: 02-08-2005 14:02:58
Last updated: 02-28-2005 17:29:36