History of Coca-Cola
Cortes has produced a beautiful and subversive history of how that bottle of Coca-Cola ended up in your fridge, and the history of coffee and how it ended up on your nearby street corner and gas stations. The end product is a damning, epic tale of hypocrisy: while the US government leads the charge to criminalize the 10 million people who chew coca, it has simultaneously conspired with a multinational beverage giant to ensure an endless supply of coca to fuel its profits.
The most popular cola, Coca-Cola, was invented by Dr. John Pemberton, a pharmacist who mixed the kick of kola caffeine with a kick of coca.
Coca grows in the Andean mountains of South America.
A Secret History of Coffee, Coca & Cola
Like the seeds of coffee and kola plants, coca leaves bestow a power of endurance when chewed. People have used coca for thousands of years.
In August 1499, Amerigo Vespucci, sailing northwest along the coast of Venezuela, encountered an island of men with the leaf tucked in their cheeks.
For centuries after that, Europeans heard astonishing tales of the plant fueling marathons across mountains without food or rest.
Within thirty years, a medical miracle was transformed into a crime epidemic. The distinction between the coca plant and its alkaloid was lost in the rising fervor. In 1914, the United States began prohibition of coca with the Harrison Narcotics Act.
Just eleven years earlier, The Coca-Cola Company began working with a German cocaine maker, Dr. Louis Schaefer, importing Peruvian coca leaf to his chemical plant in Maywood, New Jersey.
Schaefer Alkaloid Works supplied ingredients to Coca-Cola, including caffeine from coffee beans and tea dust, and a mixture of kola and non-narcotic coca “flavoring extract.” This secret formula was dubbed “Merchandise No. 5.”
Subsequently called Maywood Chemical Works, the site was acquired by the Stepan Chemical Company in 1959.
During the past century, Coca became illegal in most countries around the world, sparking one of the longest, most expensive, and violent wars in history. Moreover, thousands of tons of coca leaf were shipped to this secure, discreet facility.
Much credit can go to Harry Anslinger and Ralph Hayes. In 1930, Harry J. Anslinger became commissioner of the US Federal Bureau of Narcotics. He led the ban against coca, while simultaneously helping secure The Coca-Cola Company’s exclusive access to it, through the administrations of seven presidents, until his retirement from government in 1970.
Ricardo CortesA Secret History of Coffee, Coca & Cola – Ricardo Cortes