top of page

The Pemberton Chemical Company, and the birth of a new soft drink.

Updated: Jan 8, 2022

The original investors written in the handwriting of Frank Robinson on ledger paper, 1886

1886 — The initial investors.

C.A. Robinson, 26 January 1886 — $6,500
CA Robinson was Frank Robinson's brother, Charles A. Robinson
D.D. Doe, 26 January 1886 — $1,000
DD Doe was David Doe, a close friend of Frank Robinson. Both were natives of Maine, and ran a general store together after the Civil War. After moving west to Osceola, Iowa to develop business opportunities, they took their two-color printing machine to Atlanta in December of 1885. They were lured there by advertising opportunities afforded by the large and still growing patent medicine industry. Robinson and Doe were referred to Pemberton , and soon arrived a deal in which they would handle the advertising and promotions, leaving Pemberton free to produce is products. Doe retires from the relationship around June 1887, taking the two-color printing machine with him as his share of the company. He was replaced by MP Alexandra, a pharmacist from Memphis, Tennessee. As the company's value increased by 10,000.00 at this same time, it is believed that he had invested 10,000 cash. This is probably why he was immediately appointed President of the Pemberton Chemical Company.

Ed Holland, 19 January 1886 — $3,000
Ed Holland was the wealthy son of one of Atlanta’s early bankers. Mr. Holland was renting out family’s old home at 107 Marietta Street (between Spring and Bartow Streets). Holland House was a two story brick structure only 3 blocks from the center of downtown Atlanta. For his share of Pemberton Chemical Company, Holland relinquished the home to use as the business premises for the newly formed company.

Holland House, home of the Pemberton Chemical Company at 107 Marietta Street, and the first home to Coca-Cola.

J.D. and J.B. Cohran, 26 January 1886 — $5,000
J.D. Cochran, 01 April 1886 — $500 J.B. Cochran, 01 April 1886 — $500
JD and JB Cohran were friends with either JL Robinson or Frank Robinson.

J.L. Robinson, 26 January 1886 — $500
JL Robinson was Frank Robinson's and Charles A. Robinson's father

Atlanta Constitution article outlining the 1887 election of officers.


The products.

1887 Pemberton Chemical Company Letterhead

Letterhead detail showing the products represented by Pemberton


French Wine Coca

The French Wine Coca Bottle. They sold for 1 dollar each.
A precursor to Coca-Cola and a cure-all based closely on the immensely popular elixir — Vin Mariani

An advertisement from 1885 states that Pemberton's French Wine Coca was "infallible in curing all who are afflicted with any nerve trouble, dyspepsia, mental and physical exhaustion, all chronic and wasting diseases, gastric irritability, constipation, sick headache, neuralgia, etc . . ." It's three primary ingredients were the Coca plant from Peru, the Kola nut from Africa, and pure Grape Wine.

Charles Howard Candler in his 1952 manuscript "The True Origin of Coca-Cola" wrote that the Coca-Cola formula evolved from French Wine of Coca . . . stating "This group of adventurers decided to include caffeine in their syrup blend to make it a headache remedy, starting as they did with Dr. Pemberton's Wine-Coca which had in it the stimulating Extract of Coca leaves; by eliminating the wine and increasing the sugar in the formula and adding an acid for zest, they probably got a medicine which . . . had a far from pleasant taste. They contributed to the bitterish taste of their concoction by including in the formula some fluid extract of Kola" Charles continued that . . . "though this medicine might relieve the results of intemperance, the good doctor apparently believed it would promote temperance and replace alcoholic drinks." According to Charles Howard Candler — "The True Origin of Coca-Cola" was based on matters "which I many times heard my father, Asa G. Candler, and Mr. Frank Robinson discuss at length."

c.1887 newspaper ads for Pembertons French Wine Coca


Globe Flower Cough Syrup

Purported cure for consumption, bronchitis, asthma, croup, bleeding of the lungs, pleurisy, and laryngitis.


Indian Queen Hair Dye


Coca-Cola Syrup

The first syrup bottle. It was sold to fountains for 25 cents.
A new soda fountain drink to relieve the common problems headache and exhaustion.

Lewis Turner an apprentice of Dr. Pemberton's, and his nephew recalled the 1886 laboratory set up at the Holland House at 107 Marietta Street to produce Coca-Cola Syrup

. . . an "enormous filter made of matched flooring wide at the top and narrowing to the base . . . was built through the floor of the second story room and the ceiling of the room below. This big hamper like receptacle was filled with 'Chattahoochee River' washed sand. . . the prepared ingredients of Coca-Cola were poured into the top of this filter and treacled (treacle is a thick, sticky dark syrup made from partly refined sugar) through several wagon loads of washed sand into a metal trough . . ."this process was for the purpose of 'ripening' the mixture by [letting it] filter through without access of air. There were two large kettles such as sorghum and sugar cane juices were boiled in. . . paddles of ash similar to those used in propelling canoes stirred the liquid while it boiled . . . before being taken through the filtering and fermentation process."

1891 Trade Card showing bottles for 25 cents. The bottle mentioned is the syrup bottle pictured above.


Perfecting the taste.

Early May 1886, the new syrup was sent to Willis Venable's Soda Fountain, three blocks away from the laboratory at the Holland House. Frank Robinson later recalled . . . " it was taken to Mr. Venable's soda fountain for the purpose of trying it and ascertaining whether it was something the people would like or not." After modifications he stated . . ."it seemed to be satisfactory."

Jacobs Pharmacy at 2 Peachtree Street in area known as Five Points in the center of downtown Atlanta.

Pemberton's nephew, and apprentice, Lewis Newman, stated that . . . "My last visit to Aunties was when Uncle John was giving Coca-Cola a try out and he was even more glad to see me than usual. He was eager to show me through his 'factory' and tell me that he had begun selling 'my temperance drink,' as he called it. . . . Uncle John sent me with an order for a drink and to wait in Jacobs Pharmacy to hear comments of those who came for Coca-Cola when it was first introduced. (It sold about) 3 to 5 gallons per day." Mr. Newman, and another apprentice John Turner both remembered being sent to the drugstore to get a drink of Coca-Cola for Pemberton, since there was no carbonated water at the laboratory.'

Willis Venable's Fountain on the first floor of Jacob's Pharmacy.

It is unknown exactly when the drink acquired its name. In late April 1886 Pemberton was apparently still referring to it as "my temperance drink". Sometime during the next month each of the four partners suggested names, but Robinson's suggestion won out. The May 29, 1886 advertisement in the Atlanta Journal introduced the new drink, Coca-Cola.

The first Coca-Cola Advertisement
Advertisement for Venable's Soda Fountain, The King of All fountains


A big surprise.

A May 1, 1887 article in The Atlanta Constitution stated that the sales for the past few weeks of Coca-Cola syrup amounted to 600 gallons (which would make 76,800 drinks). Pretty good for a new soda fountain drink. But, later Frank Robinson later testified under oath — " from May 1886 to May 1887 he (Pemberton) had sold twenty-five to thirty gallons, maybe, something like that. " The truth is probably somewhere in between since Coca-Cola trade cards from the period state that the Coca-Cola Company sold 3,500 gallons in 1890, then 5,375 gallons in 1891. Nevertheless, the twenty-five gallon figure for the 1886-1887 sales continues to remain in company lore.

1892 trade card showing sales for the years of 1890 and 1891

A turning point came when on June 6, 1887, Dr. Pemberton applied for a Coca-Cola trademark patent in his name only. The patent was granted on June 28, 1887. A mere ten days later, on July 8, 1887, Pemberton secretly sold two-thirds of his rights to Coca-Cola to Willis Venable and George Lowndes. Mr. Venable was the soda fountain proprietor from Jacobs Pharmacy, and George Lowndes, was a proprietary medicine salesman and old friend of Dr. Pembertons. The initial partners had no knowledge of the sale or the patent. At this point things changed . . .

The 1887 Coca-Cola Patent

479 views2 comments

Recent Posts

See All

2 ความคิดเห็น

14 พ.ย. 2565

Looking for "Free Bottle on Demand" tokens - history and value


20 มิ.ย. 2565

This is really just fantastic information. Thank you for sharing.

bottom of page