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May 8, 1886: First Coke Sold

Coke was originally intended as a patent medicine when it was invented in the late 19th century by Pharmacist John Pemberton. On this day in 1886 he sells his carbonated beverage named “Coca-Cola” for the first time. [image above: Pemberton’s first ad for Coca-Cola that ran in the May 29th, 1886 issue of Atlanta Journal]

John Pemberton

John Pemberton

Pemberton was wounded in the Civil War and became addicted to morphine. Being a pharmacist he began looking for a substitute. His first sales were at Jacobs Pharmacy in Atlanta, GA on May 8, 1886. It was sold as a patent medicine for five cents a glass at the soda fountains which were very popular in the US at the time. Pemberton claimed Coca-Cola cured many diseases, including morphine addiction, dyspepsia, neurasthenia, headache, and impotence.

Coca-Cola’s two key ingredients were cocaine and caffeine. Cocaine from the coca leaf and caffeine from kola nut leading to the name Coca-Cola (the “K” in kola replaced with a “C”). Pemberton called for 5 ounces of coca leaf per gallon of syrup. Hmmm… wonder if this had anything to do with Coke’s success? It was almost 20 years later, in 1903, when the cocaine was removed.


Believed to be the first coupon ever, this ticket for a free glass of Coca-Cola was first distributed in 1888 to help promote the drink. By 1913, the company had redeemed 8.5 million tickets.


The Coca-Cola logo was created by John Pemberton’s bookkeeper, Frank Mason Robinson (left), in 1885. Robinson came up with the Frank Mason Robinsonname and chose the logo’s distinctive cursive script. The typeface used, known as Spencerian script, was developed in the mid-19th century and was the dominant form of formal handwriting in the United States during that period.

Secret recipe

After Pemberton invented Coca-Cola in 1886, the formula was kept a close secret. The recipe eventually found its way to a vault at the SunTrust Bank in Atlanta, GA until 2011 when Coke moved it to a vault in an exhibit at the World of Coke museum in Atlanta.

Here is Pemberton’s recipe, this recipe is attributed to a diary owned by Pemberton, just before his death in 1888. Shhhh… don’t tell anyone.


  • 1 oz (28 g) caffeine citrate
  • 3 oz (85 g) citric acid
  • 1 US fl oz (30 ml) vanilla extract
  • 1 US qt (946 ml) lime juice
  • 2.5 oz (71 g) “flavoring,” i.e., “Merchandise 7X”
  • 30 lb (14 kg) sugar
  • 4 US fl oz (118.3 ml) fluid extract of coca leaves (flavor essence of the coca leaf).
  • 2.5 US gal (9.5 l; 2.1 imp gal) water
  • caramel sufficient to give color
  • “Mix caffeine acid and lime juice in 1 quart boiling water add vanilla and flavoring when cool.”
  • Flavoring (Merchandise 7X): 1 qrt alcohol
  • 80 oil orange
  • 40 oil cinnamon
  • 120 oil lemon
  • 20 oil coriander
  • 40 oil nutmeg
  • 40 oil neroli
  • “Let stand 24 hours.”



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