John Pemberton Haiku

Morphine addiction

Needs radical solution.

Like, maybe cocaine?

Today on Quack Week, we’ve got someone I feel pretty sorry for – the inventor of what may be the most ubiquitous brand in the world.

Yep, it’s poor ol’ John Pemberton. He was born in Georgia in 1831 and he seemed to have a pretty good start of it. He got to go to medical college, became a pharmacist, married a lovely Wesleyan-educated lady (Ann Eliza Clifford Lewis, or ‘Cliff’ to her pals), and had a son (Charles). Yep, everything was going great.

Then the Civil War happened and Pemberton signed up for the Confederate Army. He got through most of it okay, only to get a sabre across the chest during the April 1865 Battle of Columbus. That shit hurt and he promptly became reliant on morphine to get through the day.

Pemberton knew he had a problem and decided to create a patent medicine that would fix it. The product he came up with he named ‘Pemberton’s French Wines Coca’, of which coca wine was a heavy component. Which is wine plus cocaine. It also had kola nut, which is where the caffeine came from. It was advertised towards nervous types, ladies, and the sedentary.

Then in 1886, temperance came to Atlanta, ruining everything. Pemberton had to ditch the alcohol (the cocaine was fine). Then he had the happy accident of mixing the base syrup with carbonated water. After tasting that, he decided to ditch the ‘medicine’ label (although he persisted in some health claims) and just sell it as a fountain drink at pharmacies. And so, Coca-Cola!

Unfortunately, all this did not help dampen his morphine addiction one whit. He continued to bleed money as he became ever more sick and paid for the morphine to mask it, and began selling off the rights to his product. He died of stomach cancer in 1888.

To make the story even sadder, Pemberton left a share of the formula to his son, believing it was going to be a huge deal one day. But Charles had his own opium addiction by then and sold it. He died just six years later.

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One thought on “John Pemberton Haiku

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