Coca Cola (July 1890)

by David R. Schleper

On July 11, 1890, Daniel M. Storer was a merchant in Shakopee. In his diary, he noted, “The Van Houten Coca Cola folks were in our store today, giving people a cup of Coca Cola free. They had a nice young lady to dish it out, a Miss Cora Ellis of Austin, Minnesota.”

The Van Houten Coca Cola Company was mostly focused on chocolate. Coenraad Johannes Van Houten (1801-1887) was a Dutch chemist and chocolate manufacturer who in 1828 invented the process that is used to turn roasted cacao beans into cocoa powder. His method was an inexpensive way of removing much of the cocoa butter from the nib, or center of the beans, using a hydraulic press, and adding alkaline salts (potassium carbonate or sodium carbonate) so that the cocoa powder would mix readily with water or milk. The resulting cocoa powder can be used to make chocolate milk and other delicacies.

But in the 1890s, the Van Houten Coca Cola Company was in Shakopee to get the Shakopee people to try coca cola!

Before coca cola happened, in 1863 a Parisian chemist, Angelo Mariani, combined coca and wine. It was very popular, and even Pope Leo XIII used to carry a flask of Vin Marian, which he used regularly. In fact, he even gave Mariani a medal!

After the Civil War, Dr. John Stith Pemberton, a morphine addict following an injury in the war, set up to make his own version of Vin Marian, with coca and wine. But as Pemberton’s business started to take off, a prohibition was passed in his county in Georgia, 34 years before the 18th Amendment. So French Wine Coca was illegal because of the alcohol, not the cocaine.

Pemberton was smart. He replaced the wine in the formula with sugar syrup. His new product was debuted in 1886 as Coca-Cola, the temperance drink. Dr. John Stith Pemberton, a pharmacist and inventor of patent medicines, sold the first coca cola at Jacob’s Pharmacy in Atlanta, George.

The beverage was named Coca-Cola because, originally, the stimulant mixed in the beverage was coca leaves from South America, which the drug cocaine is derived from. In addition, the drink was flavored using kola nuts, also acting as the beverage’s source of caffeine. Pemberton called for five ounces of coca leaf per gallon of syrup, a significant dose. In 1891, Candler claimed his formula, altered extensively from Pemberton’s original, contained only a tenth of this amount.

Coca-Cola was an intellectual beverage among well-off whites, especially in the segregated soda fountains. This changed when the company started selling it in bottles in 1899. Anyone with a nickel could now drink the cocaine-infused beverage. In The Atlantic, an article showed that southern newspapers reported that African Americans were becoming “negro cocaine fiends” who drank Coca-Cola, and then were raping white women. I am not kidding!

Coca-Cola once contained an estimated nine milligrams of cocaine per glass. So people in Shakopee were drinking a bit of cocaine, starting in 1890.

By 1903, the manager of Coca-Cola bowed to white fears and removed the cocaine, adding more sugar and caffeine.

Cocaine wasn’t even illegal until 1914, 11 years after Coca-Cola changed its recipe.

The Coca-Cola we know today still contains coca — but the ecgonine alkaloid is removed from it. Perfecting that extraction took until 1929, so before that there were still trace amounts of coca’s psychoactive elements in Coca-Cola.

So in July of 1890, people in Shakopee stopped in and got a drink of Coca-Cola, cocaine and all.

On July 13, 1890, Daniel again commented in his diary. “The Coca Cola folks got done with us today, and went to Hastings. They sold a good deal of goods while here, and we bought some besides, so as to have it in stock.”

(From The Diary of Daniel M. Storer from 1849 to 1905: A Pioneer Builder and Merchant in Shakopee, Minnesota by Shakopee Heritage Society, 2003, p. 183; “Why We Took Cocaine Out of Soda”, The Atlantic, 31 Jan. 2013; Wikipedia.)

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