12 Refreshing Facts About Coca-Cola

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Most pharmacists admit that pretty much anything they mix up is going to taste awful. The most spectacular exception: Coca-Cola, a flavored syrup combined with carbonated water that was invented by Atlanta druggist John S. Pemberton in 1886 and has gone on to become one of the most beloved refreshments of the modern world. Check out some facts about Coke's illustrious history, why Pepsi once gave them a hand, and how bottlers developed some of the most huggable curves in the world.

1. IT USED TO BE FREE.

While Pemberton’s soft drink would eventually prove to be a hit at soda fountains, he was more of an idea man than a marketing expert: Coca-Cola languished for years until a businessman named Asa Griggs Candler took over the business following Pemberton’s death in 1888. To raise awareness, Candler had sales representatives hand out coupons good for a free serving. Once people tried it, they kept coming back for more—and forking over five cents a glass thereafter.

2. THE FAMOUS BOTTLE WAS ORIGINALLY SHAPED LIKE A COCOA BEAN.

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While Candler was undeniably a better businessman than Pemberton, he made one significant misstep. At the turn of the century, Coca-Cola was usually sold at pharmacies and drug stores as a fountain drink. When bottlers approached Candler to see if he’d be interested in allowing them to distribute it in glass containers, Candler thought so little of the idea he allowed them to package the drink for a fee of just one dollar.

His inadvertent generosity proved profitable for bottlers across the country, including rival sodas: So many knock-off brands appeared that consumers had trouble telling them apart from the real thing. To alleviate the problem, Coke advised bottling partners to try and come up with a design that could be recognized by feel as someone dipped their hands into an icebox. A bottling plant in Indiana designed a chunky glass container shaped like a cocoa bean in 1916. They didn’t know Coca-Cola contained no actual cocoa. (It used coca, which contained trace amounts of cocaine until the company removed it circa 1900.) Still, the bottle became iconic, and Candler went out on a high note: After leaving the company that same year, he became mayor of Atlanta.

3. IT HIT THE SPOT FOR INFANTS.

Though some of the more serious health effects of sodas are well-documented today, Coke enthusiasts of the late 1800s were not exactly concerned with the effects of sugar water on babies. Fussing infants were sometimes given drops of the drink in the hopes it might calm them down.

4. NEW COKE ACTUALLY HUNG AROUND FOR A LONG TIME.

While the tragic story of New Coke’s 1985 debut has been well-documented, not many realize that Coke clung to the idea of an alternative formula for a very, very long time. After consumers berated the company into bringing back their original flavor just months after New Coke’s debut—test marketing subjects who endorsed it were never told it was going to replace the original—the company tried to rebrand it as Coke II and continued offering it to bottlers until 2002. It may have been in the hope that persistence would pay off: The revised formula allegedly contained fewer ingredients and was cheaper to produce than Coke Classic. If consumers had rallied, the company might have saved over $50 million a year.

5. THE CANS WERE INVENTED FOR SOLDIERS.

The only thing more pervasive than Coke’s distinctive bottles are its aluminum pull-top cans, which were born out of necessity: The company came up with them so they could be shipped to armed forces overseas. While practical, the materials needed were rationed during World War II and the company couldn’t produce them for troops until the conflict ended. Convenient and easily distributed, Coca-Cola began offering them to civilian customers in 1960.

6. THEY ONCE MADE CLEAR COKE FOR A RUSSIAN GENERAL.

Nick Amoscato via Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Coke’s global expansion was expedited during World War II, when bottling plants were erected specifically to handle the demands of supplying men overseas. The distribution also caught the attention of foreign consumers: General Dwight Eisenhower introduced Coke to Georgy Zhukov, a Russian general who had resisted Nazi forces. Zhukov loved it, but feared Stalinist-era Russia would frown upon his enjoying a distinctly American and capitalist product. He requested Coke produce the drink for him in a plain bottle and make it colorless to resemble vodka; Coke complied. Russians didn’t get the Classic version until 1985.

7. THEY TRIED TO REPLACE COFFEE.

When Coca-Cola realized a good portion of their customers—by one estimate, 12 percent—consumed their sugary, caffeinated drink in the morning instead of coffee, they decided to launch an aggressive marketing campaign promoting themselves as a morning pick-me-up. "Coke in the Morning" was launched in several test cities in 1988, with the idea being that it would be easier to guzzle a cold can of soda than a hot cup of water. (The company was careful, however, not to imply soda could replace orange juice. They owned Minute Maid.)

8. THEY ONCE FILLED CANS WITH DISGUSTING WATER ON PURPOSE.

In 1990, Coke mounted an expensive promotional campaign dubbed "MagiCans." When consumers purchased soda, they had a chance at acquiring a special spring-loaded can distributed at random that would spit out a rolled-up bill valued from $1 to $500. To make sure buyers couldn’t tell the weight of a "real" Coke from that of a prize container, the company filled it with a solution consisting of water, chlorine, and ammonium sulfate. While it tasted and smelled foul to discourage drinking, some consumers gulped it down anyway—and then threatened to sue. (Rival Pepsi ran a similar contest, but didn’t bother with the misdirection: It just gave consumers a number to call to claim a prize.)

9. PEPSI DID THEM A HUGE FAVOR.

In 2006, two Coca-Cola employees were caught trying to sell rival Pepsi trade secrets, including information on a beverage still in development, in exchange for an escalating series of payoffs from $5000 to $75,000. The employees handed over confidential papers and even a liquid sample to someone they thought was a Pepsi executive: It was an FBI agent. Pepsi had alerted both Coke and the FBI of the offer. A Pepsi spokesman told CNN that competition “must be fair and legal.” The two carbonated corporate spies received prison terms of five and eight years, respectively.

10. THEY HELPED MAKE MAX HEADROOM A STAR.

The bizarre, pseudo-animated Max Headroom character was created as a virtual television star in the UK by record company Chrysalis in 1985. Sensing his appeal for young consumers, Coca-Cola licensed Headroom that same year and made him the center of their ad campaign with a series of commercials directed by Ridley Scott. According to Coke, the spots helped Headroom gain a 76 percent recognition rating among teenagers.

11. THE SECRET FORMULA IS REALLY NO BIG SECRET.

Much has been made of how fiercely Coca-Cola has guarded its formula over the decades. Dubbed "7X," it’s said to be housed in a corporate vault and accessible only to top executives. In 2011, NPR’s This American Life announced that they had come across the recipe via the papers of an Atlanta historian named Charles Salter, who had seen it in a pile of documents belonging to Coke inventor John Pemberton. In addition to fluid extract of coca, the drink purportedly includes lemon oil, cinnamon oil, nutmeg oil, and caramel. Responding to the ensuing media flurry, Coke insisted it was, if anything, an old version of the solution—but they never acknowledged whether they had checked NPR’s list of ingredients against their own.

12. WANT THE BEST COKE? TRY MCDONALD'S.

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The two consumer-product giants have been joined at the hip since 1955, when McDonald’s owner Ray Kroc contacted the company about providing fountain drinks for his burgeoning chain of fast-food shops. Coke has since partnered with the Golden Arches on menu development (like smoothies) and even allows them to use its corporate facilities when expanding globally. The best perk of all, however, might be with the drink itself. According to The New York Times, Coke ships its syrup to McDonald’s locations in stainless steel containers, not the conventional plastic bags other suppliers use. The result is said to be the most delicious, freshest Coke available.

This piece originally ran in 2016.

10 Delicious Hot Chocolate Mix-Ins

Lilechka75/iStock via Getty Images Plus
Lilechka75/iStock via Getty Images Plus

It's hot chocolate season—and while there's nothing wrong with plopping in a few marshmallows into your hot cocoa, there are many other ways to spice it up. Whether you're bored or just looking to try something new, these 10 ingredients will take your hot chocolate to the next level.

1. Peanut Butter

A jar of peanut butter in a white bowl with peanuts on a blue table.
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If you're a fan of the peanut butter and chocolate combination, this recipe from One Ordinary Day is for you. Just add a few dollops of regular, creamy peanut butter right into your saucepan along with the chocolate and enjoy.

2. Nutella

For a hazelnut flavor, mix some nutella into the saucepan. This one goes best with a whipped cream garnish.

3. Maple Syrup

Maple syrup in a glass bottle on a wooden table.
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For a New England twist on cocoa, add a couple teaspoons of maple syrup. If you need an extra kick, a couple pinches of nutmeg will do.

4. Cinnamon

A mere teaspoon of cinnamon in a saucepan of hot chocolate is all it takes to create a delicious mix of cinnamon hot chocolate.

5. Oreos

sandwich cookies on a blue background
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You’ll need a food processor or blender to chop up around four oreos until they're the texture of sugar. Add it to the hot chocolate mix, then top with whipped cream and more crushed Oreos.

6. Peppermint

For a batch of peppermint hot chocolate, all it takes is three drops of peppermint oil and a pinch of salt.

7. Ginger

fresh ginger on a black background
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To make hot cocoa taste like gingerbread, add one piece of ginger, 10 cloves, and two cinnamon sticks while cooking.

8. Chili Powder

If you really want to spice up the beverage, whip up a batch of Mexican hot chocolate. This includes a little bit of ground cinnamon and a pinch of chili powder.

9. Cherry

Cherries in a jar.
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For a full batch of hot chocolate to taste like cherry, it takes a few tablespoons of maraschino cherry juice.

10. Booze

There are many types of alcohol that go well in hot chocolate. Some options include brandy, Kahlua, peppermint schnapps, raspberry liqueur, tequila, amaretto, Bailey’s Irish Creme, and even red wine.

101 Years Later: Remembering Boston's Great Molasses Flood of 1919

Boston Public Library, Flickr, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
Boston Public Library, Flickr, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

On January 15, 1919, Boston suffered one of history’s strangest disasters: a devastating flood of molasses. The “Great Molasses Flood” tore through the city's North End and deposited so much gooey residue that locals claimed they could still smell the molasses on warm days decades later.

While most of us probably think of molasses as a tasty ingredient in treats like gingerbread, the sticky stuff has quite a few other uses. With a little know-how, one can turn molasses into rum or industrial alcohol fairly easily, and the Purity Distilling Company had built the gigantic tank in Boston’s North End in 1915 to supply its booze-making operations.

The steel tank was enormous: 50 feet tall, 90 feet across, and capable of holding 2.5 million gallons of molasses. (Although Prohibition kicked in with Nebraska’s ratification of the Eighteenth Amendment the very next day after the 1919 disaster, the United States Industrial Alcohol Company, Purity Distilling’s parent company, still had a license to distill alcohol for industrial applications.)


By Unknown - Anthony Mitchell Sammarco. Boston's North End. Arcadia Publishing, 2004, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

The massive tank was nearly full on January 15, thanks to a recent infusion of 2.3 million gallons of molasses from Puerto Rico. Just after noon, something went horribly wrong. Witnesses later recalled hearing a noise like gunfire as the tank’s rivets popped and the steel sides ripped open. Suddenly, 26 million pounds of molasses were tearing down Commercial Street in a 15-foot wave.

A shockingly destructive force

A giant wave of a sticky foodstuff sounds like something from a cartoon, but the surging molasses was a shockingly destructive force. The wave moved at upwards of 35 mph, and the power was sufficient to rip buildings off of their foundations. The molasses snapped the support girders from an elevated train track and smashed multiple houses. The Massachusetts Foundation for the Humanities’s website claimed the property damage alone totaled around $100 million in today’s dollars.

The human cost of the disaster was even more grim. The wave of molasses moved so quickly and so forcefully that anyone who was unlucky enough to be in its way didn’t stand much of a chance. They were either knocked over and crushed or drowned in the goo. The flood claimed 21 lives, and another 150 people suffered injuries. Any flood would have been disastrous, but the viscous nature of molasses made rescue attempts even trickier. Medics and police officers arrived on the scene quickly but had to slog through waist-deep goo to reach victims.


Boston Post, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Even after the victims had been pulled from the muck, cleanup crews quickly learned that getting rid of 2 million gallons of molasses is no small task. In his book Dark Tide, Stephen Puleo wrote about one of the chief obstacles to the cleanup: firefighters couldn’t just use their hoses to blast the molasses off of buildings and streets with fresh water. Eventually they realized that saltwater would cut the hardened molasses and enable them to hose it down the streets into gutters. Thanks to all the foot traffic of rescue workers, cleanup crews, and rubberneckers, the sticky mess quickly moved around the city via people's shoes. In all, the cleanup effort required over 80,000 man-hours.

The Blame Game

How did this tragedy happen in the first place? The United States Industrial Alcohol Company was quick to blame everyone’s favorite early 20th-century scapegoats: anarchists. The company claimed that since its alcohol was an ingredient in government munitions, anarchists must have sabotaged the tank by detonating a bomb. Another theory explained that the molasses had fermented inside the tank, which led to an explosion.

Investigators soon found the real culprit, though: shoddy construction work. The company had been in such a hurry to get the tank built back in 1915 that it didn’t cut corners so much as it ignored the corners completely. Modern studies have found that the tank walls were both too thin and made of a steel that was too brittle to withstand the volume of molasses.

The man who oversaw the construction wasn’t an engineer or an architect; in fact, he couldn’t even read a blueprint. The tank needed to be an engineering marvel to hold all that weight, but the company never even consulted an engineer on the project. Basically, it threw up a gigantic tank as quickly and as cheaply as possible, skimped on inspections and safety tests, and hoped for the best.


Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

In light of these details, it’s amazing that the tank held together for four years. Nearby residents reported that the tank had leaked since its construction. Rather than fix the problem, the United States Industrial Alcohol Company had painted the tank brown so the leaks would be less noticeable.

The largely working-class North End residents who had lost their homes and loved ones in the disaster predictably turned their rage toward the United States Industrial Alcohol Company. USIA soon found itself named as the defendant in 125 lawsuits, which led to a legal battle that nearly matched the flood’s scale.

The Massachusetts Superior Court named Colonel Hugh Ogden as the auditor who would hear the evidence and report back on the cause of the disaster. It took Ogden nearly six years to hear testimony from 3000 witnesses. When he finally penned his report, he concluded that there was no evidence to support the company’s theory of anarchist saboteurs. Instead, Ogden found that the “factor of safety” in the tank’s construction and inspection had been woefully low. USIA was liable for the damage and paid around $7000 to the family of each victim.

The Great Molasses Flood still seems like a tragedy that could have been averted, but the disaster really drew attention to the potential repercussions of shaky construction. The case helped prompt Massachusetts and many other states to pass laws requiring that engineers and architects inspect and approve plans for major construction projects.

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