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Coca-Cola Trademark

Legislation unintentionally gave us one of America’s most popular beverages.

Laws have unintended consequences. Like the prohibition act that gave birth to one of America’s favorite soft drinks.

Not the prohibition of the 1920s. The prohibition of the 1880s – 1886 to be exact.

That’s when a Georgia county enacted a statute outlawing the sale of alcohol. Among the products it affected, was a popular patent medicine called Pemberton’s French Wine Cola.

Introduced in 1884 by Columbus, Georgia pharmacist John Pemberton, French Wine Cola combined coco leaves and alcohol. It was launched to compete with similar a drink sweeping the world, called Vin Mariani.

Vin Mariani was essentially Bordeaux wine treated with cocoa leaves. Ethanol in the leaves extracted cocaine, giving the wine a tonic effect — and the resulting drink became mighty popular. Not just in Europe, but worldwide. Author Jules Verne, inventor Thomas Edison, actress Sarah Bernhardt, the Empress of Russia and none other than his Holiness, Pope Leo XIII praised the restorative qualities of Vin Mariani — often in endorsement ads.

Like Vin Mariani, French Wine Cola — which also contained alcohol and cocaine — claimed to lift the spirits, relieve headaches and suppress nervousness. In short, it was marketed as a health drink. And for two sweet years, druggists throughout Georgia sold it.

Then in 1886, Fulton County and the city of Atlanta passed prohibition legislation. Its unintended consequences laid the ground for one of the most successful consumer beverages of all time.

To stay in business, John Pemberton was forced to change his drink formula. Out went the alcohol — in came sugar and carbonated water. Out went the old name: French Wine Cola — in in came a new name: Coca-Cola.

Pemberton sold his new drink as a syrup, which he supplied to druggists. They mixed it with carbonated water, and sold it for five cents a glass at their soda fountains. The reason? In those days carbonated – or “soda” — water (water with carbon dioxide gas injected under pressure) was thought to have substantial health benefits. And anything mixed with soda water was thought to be healthy, which is why Coke got the carbonation it retains to this day.

And that’s how legislation unintentionally converted a hard drink … into the world’s most popular soft drink. It wasn’t the first legislation with unintended consequences, and it won’t be the last. But fans of Coca-Cola may consider it one of the best.

Entrepreneur John Pemberton exemplifies one of our Axioms for Entrepreneurs. Go with the flow. He modified his drink recipe to comply with a new law, and discovered the winning formula for Coca-Cola.

Now Why Didn’t I Think of That?

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