Image above: Advertisement for Coca-Cola, 1890-1900. Courtesy Library of Congress.
Spotlight on Lesser Known History
Coca-Cola Museum, Georgia
America's Best History Spotlight
On this page we're going to Spotlight the lesser known historic sites and attractions that dot the history landscape across the USA and are worth a visit if you're in their area. And while they may be lesser known, some are very unique, and will be that rare find. You'll be, at times, on the ground floor, or maybe even know something others don't. It'll be fun. Visit them.
Coca-Cola Museum, Georgia
Yeh, yeh, yeh. We know. It doesn't make a whole lot of sense for a history site to focus on the history of the nation's favorite soft drink, but yes, that's what we're doing. The Coca-Cola Museum in Atlanta, Georgia recounts the history of the iconic cola, whose brand and symbol is likely more known in the United States today than most of the famous battles of the Civil War that were raged around its namesake home, or the names of most presidents. If you asked the average teen today who the Vice President was, or even to pick him out of a lineup, they may not know. But if you asked whether they like Coke or Pepsi best, and whether they could pick out their symbols, we're talking ninety percent plus. But, they still might not know the history of John Pemberton, Coke's founder. And if you're in Atlanta, this is one museum they might be interesting in visiting. Photo above: Twilight view of the Coca-Cola Museum, 2017, Carol Highsmith Collection. Courtesy Library of Congress.
Info, What's There Now, History Nearby
The Coca-Cola Museum traces the history of the Coke company from its inception by John Pemberton in 1886, when Pemberton, who had been selling the elixir as a medicine to relieve pain since the end of the Civil War, had to transform it into a beverage due to the temperance movement. The museum contains a plethora of memorabilia from that 1886 moment forward and its not a small place. Over twenty acres is dedicated to Pemberton's iconic drink, one advertised across the United States and later the world with such fervor that almost every town had a painted billboard, usually on a building itself, dedicated to convincing the world that the only beverage to drink was Coca-Cola.
The museum is now located in its second building since 2007 (the original opened in 1990) in the Centennial Olympic Park neighborhood near other attractions; the Georgia Aquarium and the Center for Civil and Human Rights. There are exhibits about Coke's secret formula, a high definition movie about scientists trying to discover the formula, and a tasting room for visitors that allows them to sample the different flavors of Coke sold around the world.
Photo above: Just one sign for Coca-Cola painted on America's buildings over the past hundred years, this one in Indiana, 2016, Carol Highsmith Collection. Courtesy Library of Congress.
Where Is It
The Coca-Cola Museum is located in Pemberton Place, 121 Baker St NW, Atlanta, Georgia. That's downtown, for those not Atlanta initiated, and close to the exact location where Pemberton discovered the secret formula. The College Football Hall of Fame is also nearby.
What is There Now
Eighty-one thousand square meters of exhibits form the basis of the Coca-Cola Museum in areas such as the Loft, the Coca-Cola Theater, the Vault, Milestones of Refreshment, Bottleworks, the 4-D Theater, the Perfect Pause Theater, and the Tasting Lounge.
When are the Sites Open and How Much to Visit
Open most days 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., with extended hours on some Fridays and Saturdays. Check with the museum for the hours on the specific date you will be visiting.
$17 Adults, $15 Seniors, $13 Children 3-12, 2 and under Free.
World of Coca-Cola
Within walking distance in Pemberton Place, you have the Georgia Aquarium and the Civil Rights Museum. Just on the other side of the Centennial Olympic Park is the College Football Hall of Fame. Other history sites in the city include Martin Luther King National Historical Park, Ebenezer Baptist Church, High Museum of Art, and the Atlanta Botanical Garden. On your way to the city, Civil War sites such as the Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefied, as well as Chickamauga and Chattanooga Battlefield are national treasures to visit, as well as newer sites such as the Reseca Battlefield Historic Site, which recounts one battle in the Campaign for Atlanta.
Photos, History, and More Spotlights
With the establishment of the formula for the beverage in 1886 and the subsequent sale of the company by founder Pemberton over the next two years to other investors and his final third to Asa Griggs Candler, the Coca-Cola company began to prosper. Candler eventually gained full control within the next several years for a total of $2,300. By 1919, the firm was bought for $25 million.
Today, Coke products are sold in more than two hundred nations of the world. Over 1.8 billion drinks are consummed per day with the brand of Coke now (in a 2015 study) the third most valuable behind Apple and Google. Revenue in 2017 was $35.4 billion and the company employed 61,800 workers.
Photo Above: Exhibits from the past of the Coca-Cola Company in the Coca-Cola Museum. Courtesy Wikipedia Commons.
John S. Pemberton
John Stith Pemberton was a pharmacist, but also a soldier. No, not the John C. Pemberton, a Confederate General, but yes, a Lt. Colonel who was wounded at the Battle of Columbia at the end of the Atlanta Campaign in 1865. Due to his wound, Pemberton began experimenting with creating medicines to ease pain that would not be as adictive as the morphine he had been using. After several attempts, his "Pemberton's French Wine Coca" an alcoholic concoction derived from the Coca plant (containing a low level of the alkaloid cocaine), kola nut, and damiana. After twenty years of selling this elixir, the temperance movement in the Atlanta environs convinced Pemberton that a transition to a drink that was not alcoholic would be a better commercial enterprise moving forward. In 1886, Pemberton accidentially carbonated his base syrup, and he had his non-alcoholic beverage under the Coca-Cola name.
Photo above: John S. Pemberton. Courtesy Wikipedia Commons.
Coke at World's Fairs
The Coke company was not satisfied with advertising in just magazines, on television, and on those iconic billboards and building boards around the United States and abroad. They, like other Fortune 500 firms, saw promotion at large scale events, both through sponsorships and pavilions, as a good way to spread word of the brand. At World's Fairs such as New York in 1939-1940 and 1964-5, their pavilions became must-see attractions that cemented their customers as Coke buyers. Twenty-four thousand people per day visited the 1964-5 Coke pavilion. This additional advertising platform is still in use today, with Coke's pavilion at the Milan World's Fair of 2015 a recent example. More than four hundred thousand visitors saw the Coke pavilion in Milan. Further back, a Coca-Cola Fountain was exhibited at the 1893 Chicago World's Columbia Exhibition. It recently sold for $4.5 million.
Image above: Drawing of the Coca-Cola Pavilion at the New York World's Fair of 1964-5, New York World's Fair Guidebook. Courtesy Coca-Cola Company.
Source: Library of Congress, Wikipedia Commons, Coca-Cola Company, Coca-Cola Museum.
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Photos courtesy of the Library of Congress, National Archives, National Park Service, americasbesthistory.com and its licensors.