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Pemberton, John

Future chemist John S. Pemberton was born in Knoxville, Georgia on January 8, 1831; he grew up in Rome, Georgia and later moved to Columbus, where he obtained a graduate degree in pharmacy. During the Civil War, Pemberton served as a lieutenant colonel in the Third Georgia Cavalry. In April 1865, he suffered a near-fatal wound in the Battle of Columbus. Reportedly, to ease the pain of his wounds, he became addicted to morphine and began a quest to find a cure to his addiction. His experiments included use of coca and kola nuts.

In 1870, Pemberton moved to Atlanta, where he became a famous physician. But his love was chemical research in his laboratory. By the early 1880s, a French wine named Vin Mariani had become popular in America. The Bordeaux wine was distinct because it was treated with coca leaves. This inspired Pemberton in 1884 to capitalize on the craze by developing what he initially called Pemberton’s French Wine Coca. However, when Atlanta and Fulton County voters narrowly approved prohibition in 1885, Pemberton turned his attention to developing a non-alcoholic, cola version of his French Wine Coca. He decided to call the new beverage Coca-Cola, which he then promoted widely as the ideal temperance beverage. Atlanta’s experiment with prohibition only lasted two years, after which Pemberton returned to producing his French Wine Coca. But it was his carbonated cola drink that would become the most popular soft drink in the world. In 1888, Pemberton was in the process of incorporating the Coca-Cola Company, when he died at his Atlanta home on August 16. Subsequently, his body was returned to Columbus, where he was buried in Linwood Cemetery.