Lesson Learned 4: Johnny’s 125 Year Old Secret

19 02 2011

Everyone has secrets, but has yours lasted 125 years?


Meet John Pemberton.



His secret was one of the most closely guarded secrets in modern history.

Mr. Pemberton was born in Georgia in 1831. Like most man at the time he was a Confederate soldier during the civil war. He was also a pharmacist. Bothe facts make the store much more interesting.


Well, poor ol’ Johnny was injured by a sword during the last battle of the Civil War (great luck, right?) Thankfully, with out to many complications he lived. Unfortunately, he became addicted to morphine used to treat his pain. He wasn’t the only one. Many soldiers on both side became addicted and it was becoming some sort of epidemic.


As mentioned, Pemberton was a pharmacist. We usually don’t like to see our pharmacists addicted to pain killers now-a-days. But this combination of circumstances led to Pemberton’s great secret. You see, John didn’t like being addicted to morphine, and I am sure he didn’t like to see his comrades addicted either. So he made up a compounded medicine he hoped would be a cure for morphine addiction.


John called his formula Merchandise 7X

This was his recipe:

Fluid extract of Coca: 3 drams, USP
Citric acid: 3 oz
Caffeine: 1 oz
Sugar: 30 (unclear quantity)
Water: 2.5 gal
Lime juice: 2 pints, 1 quart
Vanilla: 1 oz
Caramel: 1.5 oz or more for color

This was fine and dandy but being that man he was, John had to add some flavor.

The flavor (use 2 oz of flavor to 5 gals syrup):
Alcohol: 8 oz
Orange oil: 20 drops
Lemon oil: 30 drops
Nutmeg oil: 10 drops
Coriander: 5 drops
Neroli: 10 drops
Cinnamon: 10 drops

Turned out to be an amazing mixture. Local pharmacies in the Atlanta area marketed the formula as a “shot in the arm” and that it "”adds life”. Pretty awesome stuff. All except one thing.


The solution contained cocaine from the coca leaves. Tsk Tsk. The cocaine was latter removed in 1907 when Atlanta had a local ordinance to ban the substance. Then in 1911, after the formula had gained national attention the US government tried to remove caffeine from the product. It was unsuccessful attempt. Following the passage of the Pure Food and Drug act, however, it became mandatory to place caffeine on the label and marketed as habit forming. By the way, notice the place of manufacture on the cocaine drops?


Pemberton wasn’t much of a business man – he sold his recipe for 2,300 dollars in 1887. Sure, in today’s money it would be a nice chunk of change, at around 55,000 dollars.


But that is nothing compared to the profits of Coca-Cola, the drink based on the original recipe John Pemberton developed 125 years ago.


So the recipe above may not be the “Classic” formulation that we all know and love, but it was the beginning of a multi-billion dollar industry.


It is said, the current recipe is locked in a vault.



One response

23 02 2011

Always knew it was something like that but never did know the whole history 🙂

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