John Stith Pemberton (July 8, 1831 – August 16, 1888) was an American pharmacist who is best known as the inventor of Coca-Cola. In May 1886, he developed an early version of a beverage that would later become world-famous as Coca-Cola, but sold his rights to the drink shortly before his death.
Pemberton was born on July 8, 1831, in Knoxville, Georgia, and spent most of his childhood in Rome, Georgia. His parents were James C. Pemberton and Martha L. Gant. He entered the Reform Medical College of Georgia in Macon, Georgia, and in 1850, at the age of nineteen, he earned his medical degree. His main talent was chemistry. Shortly thereafter, he met Ann Eliza Clifford Lewis of Columbus, Georgia, known to her friends as "Cliff", who had been a student at the Wesleyan College in Macon.
They were married in Columbus in 1853. Their only child, Charles Ney Pemberton, was born in 1854. They lived in a Victorian cottage, the Pemberton House in Columbus, a home of historic significance which was added to the National Register of Historic Places on September 28, 1971. After initially practicing some medicine and surgery, Dr. Pemberton opened a drug store in Columbus.
During the American Civil War, Pemberton served in the Third Cavalry Battalion of the Georgia State Guard, which was at that time a component of the Confederate Army. He achieved the rank of lieutenant colonel.
In April 1865, Dr. Pemberton sustained a saber wound to the chest during the Battle of Columbus. He soon became addicted to the morphine used to ease his pain. In 1866, seeking a cure for his addiction, he began to experiment with painkillers that would serve as morphine-free alternatives to morphine.
His first recipe was "Dr. Tuggle's Compound Syrup of Globe Flower", in which the active ingredient was derived from the buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis), a toxic plant that is common in Alaska. He next began experimenting with coca and coca wines, eventually creating a recipe that contained extracts of kola nut and damiana, which he called Pemberton's French Wine Coca.
According to Coca-Cola historian Phil Mooney, Pemberton's world-famous soda was "created in Columbus, Georgia and carried to Atlanta". With public concern about drug addiction, depression, and alcoholism among war veterans, and "neurasthenia" among "highly-strung" Southern women, Pemberton's "medicine" was advertised as particularly beneficial for "ladies, and all those whose sedentary employment causes nervous prostration".
In 1886, when Atlanta and Fulton County enacted temperance legislation, Pemberton had to produce a non-alcoholic alternative to his French Wine Coca. Pemberton relied on Atlanta drugstore owner-proprietor Willis E. Venable to test, and help him perfect, the recipe for the beverage, which he formulated by trial and error. With Venable's assistance, Pemberton worked out a set of directions for its preparation.
He blended the base syrup with carbonated water by accident when trying to make another glassful of the beverage. Pemberton decided then to sell this as a fountain drink rather than a medicine. Frank Mason Robinson came up with the name "Coca-Cola" for the alliterative sound, which was popular among other wine medicines of the time. Although the name refers to the two main ingredients, because of controversy over its cocaine content, The Coca-Cola Company later said that the name was "meaningless but fanciful".
Robinson hand wrote the Spencerian script on the bottles and ads. Pemberton made many health claims for his product, touting it as a "valuable brain tonic" that would cure headaches, relieve exhaustion, and calm nerves, and marketed it as "delicious, refreshing, pure joy, exhilarating", and "invigorating".
Pemberton sells the business
Soon after Coca-Cola hit the market, Dr. Pemberton fell ill and nearly bankrupt. Sick and desperate, he began selling rights to his formula to his business partners in Atlanta. Part of his motivation to sell was that he still suffered from an expensive continuing morphine addiction. Pemberton had a hunch that his formula "some day will be a national drink", so he attempted to retain a share of the ownership to leave to his son. However, Pemberton's son wanted the money, so in 1888, Pemberton and his son sold the remaining portion of the patent to a fellow Atlanta pharmacist, Asa Griggs Candler, for US$1,750.
John Pemberton died from stomach cancer at age 57 in August 1888. At the time of his death, he also suffered from poverty and addiction to morphine. His body was returned to Columbus, Georgia, where he was buried at Linwood Cemetery. His grave marker is engraved with symbols showing his service in the Confederate Army and his membership as a Freemason. His son Charley continued to sell his father's formula, but six years later Charles Pemberton died after having become an opium addict.