John Pemberton

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This article is about the American druggist. For other people named John Pemberton, see John Pemberton (disambiguation).
John Pemberton (Inventor of Coca-Cola)
John Pemberton.jpg
John Stith Pemberton
Born (1831-07-08)July 8, 1831
Knoxville, Georgia, USA
Died August 16, 1888(1888-08-16) (aged 57)
Atlanta, Georgia, USA
Resting place Linwood Cemetery in Columbus, Georgia
Occupation Chemist
Known for Coca-Cola
Spouse(s) Ann Eliza Clifford Lewis
Children 1
Parent(s) James Clifford Pemberton (father)
Martha L. Gant (mother)

John Stith Pemberton (July 8, 1831 – August 16, 1888) was an American pharmacist, and is best known for being the inventor of Coca-Cola.


Pemberton was born July 8, 1831, in Knoxville, Crawford County, Georgia. His father was James Clifford Pemberton, brother of Confederate General John Clifford Pemberton. Pemberton was raised in Rome, Georgia. He entered the Reform Medical College of Georgia in Macon, and in 1850, at the age of nineteen, he was licensed to practice pharmacy. 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. In 1853, he married Miss Lewis in Columbus. Their only child, Charles Ney Pemberton, was born in 1854. They lived in the Pemberton House in Columbus.[1][2][3]

Invention of Coca-Cola[edit]

In April 1865, while serving as a lieutenant colonel of the Confederate Army's Third Georgia Cavalry Battalion, Georgia State Guard, Pemberton was wounded in the Battle of Columbus, Georgia. He sustained his injury from a saber with which he was slashed across his chest, and like many wounded veterans of many wars, he became addicted to the morphine used to ease the pain.[4][5][6] As the pharmacist that he was in civilian life, Pemberton sought a cure for his addiction.[7][8][9] In 1866, in Columbus, Georgia, he started working on painkillers that would serve as opium-free alternatives to morphine. His first was "Dr. Tuggle's Compound Syrup of Globe Flower (Cephalanthus occidentalis)".[10] He next began experimenting with coca and coca wines, eventually creating his own version of Vin Mariani, containing kola nut and damiana, which he called Pemberton's French Wine Coca.[11][12] According to Coca-Cola historian, Phil Mooney, Pemberton's world-famous soda was "created in Columbus, Georgia and carried to Atlanta".[13]

With public concern about the drug addiction, depression, and alcoholism among war veterans, and "neurasthenia", as well as among "highly-strung" Southern women,[14] Pemberton's medicine was advertised as particularly beneficial for "ladies, and all those whose sedentary employment causes nervous prostration".[15]

In 1886, when Atlanta and Fulton County enacted temperance legislation, Pemberton found himself forced to produce a non-alcoholic alternative to his French Wine Coca.[16] 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 that eventually included blending the base syrup with carbonated water by accident when trying to make another glass. Pemberton decided then to sell it 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 quite clearly refers to the two main ingredients, the controversy over its cocaine content would later prompt The Coca-Cola Company to state that the name was "meaningless but fanciful". Robinson also 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[edit]

A sign in Knoxville, GA commemorating John Pemberton.

Soon after Coca-Cola hit the market, 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 actually derived from his expensive continuing morphine addiction.[17] 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.[17] But Pemberton's son wanted the money. So in 1888 Pemberton and his son sold the remaining portion of the patent to Asa Candler.


Grave of John Pemberton in Columbus, Georgia

John Pemberton died at age 57 in August 1888, poor, sick, addicted to morphine, and a victim of stomach cancer. His body was returned to Columbus, Georgia, where he was laid to rest at Linwood Cemetery. His gravemarker is engraved with symbols showing his Confederate military service and his pride in being a Freemason. His son continued to sell an alternative to his father's formula, but only six years later Charles Pemberton died, an opium user himself.[18]

In popular culture[edit]

In 2010, the Coca-Cola Company paid tribute to Pemberton as a key character within an advertising campaign called "Secret Formula". Centered on the secret ingredients of Coca-Cola, imagery related to Pemberton was used to make people more aware of Coke's history and mythology.

In 2013, Pemberton was portrayed by Bill Hader in the "Atlanta" episode of Comedy Central's Drunk History, created by Derek Waters.

Welsh rock band Manic Street Preachers have an album track on their Know Your Enemy album called "Freedom of Speech Won't Feed My Children". The song, which could be viewed as a sarcastic anti-American rant, contains the line 'J.S. Pemberton saved our lives'.


  1. ^ George B. Griffenhagen, A Guide to Pharmacy Museums and Historical Collections in the United States and Canada, Amer. Inst. History of Pharmacy, 1999, pp. 23–24 [1]
  2. ^ Alice Cromie, Restored America: A Tour Guide: the Preserved Towns, Villages, and Historic City Districts of the United States and Canada, American Legacy Press, 1979, p. 135 [2]
  3. ^ Alice Cromie, Restored towns and historic districts of America: a tour guide, Dutton, 1979, p. 135 [3]
  4. ^ Richard Gardiner, "The Civil War Origin of Coca-Cola in Columbus, Georgia", Muscogiana: Journal of the Muscogee Genealogical Society (Spring 2012), Vol. 23: 21–24.
  5. ^ Dominic Streatfeild, Cocaine: An Unauthorized Biography, Macmillan (2003), p. 80.
  6. ^ Richard Davenport-Hines, The Pursuit of Oblivion, Norton (2004), p. 152.
  7. ^ John McKay, It Happened in Atlanta (Morris Books, 2011), 36.
  8. ^ Jeremy Agnew, Alcohol and Opium in the Old West, 173.
  9. ^ Albert Jack, They Laughed at Galileo, 184
  10. ^ Columbus Enquirer, March 18, 1866
  11. ^ Dominic Streatfeild, meth: An Unauthorized Biography, Macmillan (2003), p. 80.
  12. ^ Richard Davenport-Hines, The Pursuit of Oblivion, Norton (2004), p. 152.
  13. ^ Tim Chitwood, Columbus Ledger-Enquirer
  14. ^ John Shelton Reed, Minding The South, University of Missouri Press (2099), p.171.
  15. ^ American Soft Drink and the Company that Makes It, Basic Books: enlarged 2nd edition (2000), p.24.
  16. ^ "Is This the Real Thing? Coca-Cola's Secret Formula "Discovered" by This American Life –". 
  17. ^ a b "For God, Country and Coca-Cola". p. 34. 
  18. ^ "For God, Country and Coca-Cola". p. 45. 

Further reading[edit]

  • King, M M (1987), "Dr. John S. Pemberton: originator of Coca-Cola", Pharmacy in history 29 (2), pp. 85–9, PMID 11621277 
  • Hasegawa, Guy (March 1, 2000), "Pharmacy in the American Civil War", American Journal of Health-System Pharmacy 57 (5), pp. 457–489, American Journal of Health-System Pharmacy