John Pemberton

From Academic Kids

For the American Civil War general, see John C. Pemberton

Dr. John Stith Pemberton (July 8, 1831August 16, 1888) was an American druggist who invented Coca-Cola.

He was the son of James Clifford Pemberton (b. 1803 in North Carolina) and Martha L. Worsham Gent (b. about 1791 in Virginia). James and Martha married July 20, 1828, in Crawford County, Georgia. Martha was the daughter of Archer Worsham (born in Virginia) and Nancy Clark Smith from Baldwin County, Georgia. The Pemberton family moved to Rome, Georgia, and John attended medical school in Macon, receiving his degree at the age of 19.

John's medical schooling was somewhat unconventional. He received no formal medical degree, as he was never schooled in the widely accepted heroic medicine, popularized by Benjamin Rush, which attempted to cure through bloodletting. Rather, he attended a school in the tradition of Samuel Thompson, a controversial herbalist who cured through steam baths and the ingestion of lobelia. John also received a graduate degree in pharmacy. Thompson, like Pemberton, made his living selling patent medicines of dubious value (but, no more dubious than the prevailing medicine of the time). John married Wesleyan College student Ann Eliza Clifford Lewis and moved to Columbus, Georgia in 1853. The couple had a son, Charley Pemberton, born in 1854.

John worked as a druggist in Columbus and built a laboratory where he made and sold medicines, photographic chemicals, and cosmetic products, including a popular perfume he called Sweet Southern Bouquet. He moved his family to Atlanta in 1870. Pemberton served on the first pharmacy licensing board in the state, established a modern chemical laboratory that was the first state-run facility to test soil and crop chemicals, and was a trustee of Emory University School of Medicine. He fought for the Confederacy, rising to the rank of lieutenant colonel in the 3rd Georgia Cavalry regiment. His severe wounds from the war led him, as many other civil war veterans wounded in battle, to morphine addiction.

When he was a druggist and chemist in Columbus, John began work on a coca and cola (kola) nut-based nerve tonic called Pemberton's French Wine Coca, (a cocawine). In 1885 he was selling the product through Atlanta druggists when the city passed a prohibition law, so he adjusted the formula, renamed the product Coca-Cola (as suggested by partner Frank Robinson), and marketed it as both a "delicious, exhilarating, refreshing and invigorating" soda fountain beverage and a "temperance drink." He also made many health claims for his product and marketed it as a cure for a myriad of diseases.

John was plagued by his morphine addiction and imbibed his cocawine and soda in an effort to control the addiction (both beverages contained coca leaf, which in turn contains cocaine—believed at the time to be helpful in combating dependence on opiates). Indeed, Coca-Cola was originally advertised (in part) as a cure for morphine addiction.

Pemberton's behavior grew increasingly erratic as he neared the end of his life. He purportedly sold the rights to manufacture Coca-Cola twice. First, to two investors, from whom Asa Candler acquired his stake in the business. Then, to three more investors who had no knowledge of the previous sale and were left without a dime when Candler acquired exclusive rights to the formula in 1888.

John Pemberton's son Charley returned to Atlanta that same year and claimed his father had promised him a stake in the business. At first, John insisted that Charley be included in the enterprise that also included Candler and Robinson. However, a principal investor grew tired of the alcoholic young man's antics. In an effort to make peace, Pemberton declared that Charley owned the rights to the name, but not the formula. Charley then began to manufacture his own version of the popular beverage.

This complex situation was resolved when Candler acquired the formula from John and two investors to whom John had sold partial rights in order to fund his addiction, Margaret Dozier and Woolfolk Walker. However, later handwriting analysis revealed that John's signature on the bill of sale was most likely a forgery, and the Pemberton family long after suspected foul play.

John died August 16, 1888, only a few months after Candler incorporated the first Coca Cola Corporation. He is buried in Linwood Cemetery in Columbus, Pemberton fi:John Pemberton


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