Coca-Cola has been a popular drug of choice for nearly 125 years. The famous beverage was born in 1886 in Georgia, the same as Tyrus Raymond Cobb of the .367 lifetime batting average who was one of the company’s first big investors. Prohibition laws in Atlanta and Fulton County convinced John Pemberton to market Coca-Kola — for its coca leaves and kola nuts as a nonalcoholic version of French Wine Coca. Pemberton, a morphine addict, claimed that his new carbonated concoction cured morphine addiction, dyspepsia, impotence, and headache.
The original formula contained cocaine from the five ounces of coca leaf per gallon of syrup. Each glass had nine milligrams of cocaine, which was removed from the formula in 1903. After, 1904, “spent” leaves were used that had trace levels of cocaine. Today, Coke contains a cocaine-free extract. The Kola nuts — made famous in 1970s commercials — are common in cola soft drinks and provide flavoring and a dose of caffeine. In 1911, the U.S. government sued Coca-Cola to force the company to remove caffeine from its formula. The courts ruled in favor of Coca-Cola but, a year later, the U.S. Pure Food and Drug Act put caffeine on the list of “habit-forming” and “deleterious” substances which must be listed on a product’s label. Today, Coca-Coca Classic has 34mg in a 12 ounce can. The HFCS content makes the sugar content even higher per serving, 39g. The sodium figure is larger than that — 50g.
So what keeps a jittery journalist with half a colon, a diagnosis of gastric reflux disease and irritable bowel syndrome, and a history of kidney stones keep pounding down brown, fizzy drugs, sometimes three cans a day? I don’t know. My addiction goes back to Coca-Cola’s “Go with the Pros” promotion of the 1960s. Every 16 ounce bottle had a corked metal bottle cap but most of them had a drawing of a football on them during the fall. That meant an NFL player’s picture or a t]eam emblem was on the other side, once the bottle opener did its work. Cartons had a collection sheet that folded out, with circles for gluing the bottle caps to the sheet. “Look for Bart & All the Packers,” one sheet said. We turned in completed sheets at the University Avenue Coca-Cola distribution center and got team posters and mini-helmets as prizes. My favorite was a maroon seat cushion with white printed emblems for all 14 NFL teams on the inside. I still have it today.
Of course, Coke was a favorite with a bowl of popcorn watching McHale’s Navy and Man from Uncle on Friday nights, or in an ice-filled Bucky Badger cup at Wisconsin football and basketball games. I cooled off with free Coke on hot summer nights as a dishwasher at Smoky’s Club and stayed wired to get through exam weeks at UW-Madison. As an adult, the flavor, fizz and frazzle was too good to pass up. It’s given me a silver mouth and amber urine but I push on. Basically, I have bought a world of Cokes because I like them. Heck, even Old Man Gower sold them at his Bedford Falls drug store in 1919, with George Bailey behind the counter. I drank them and had them spilled on me at the UW Field House and fought through crowds across the concrete floor to get them. I even got a Coca-Cola dispenser for Christmas in 1971.
I may not have gone for a taste of Pemberton’s experiment in 1886, even if it was in Alexander Samuelson’s famous green bottle with the cursive cola calling card. I couldn’t care less that Coca-Cola has sponsored the Olymics since 1928 and is a major soccer and NASCAR backer today.
But when good taste goes with good times, it’s awfully hard to quit. I guess Coke is it. Things go better with Coke for me. Am I a confessed addict or someone who enjoys good times with a favorite beverage? I suspect that I’ll be pondering that question until the FDA abolishes HFCS.