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Open History

Guest post by History Host, Aidan Wright

    Dallas Heritage Village has started a new activity on Saturdays: The Learning Cart.  This cart will regularly be filled with items of historical interest, that the public is encouraged to explore with their eyes and their hands.  Oftentimes when someone asks to see something, they don’t really mean just to stare at it, but they want to pick it up and turn it around and explore every side.  At the Learning Cart a constantly changing selection of 19th century items will delight your sight and touch.

    The letters along the side of the Learning Cart help to round out the senses by referring to a product that appeals to the senses of taste, hearing, and smell.  “Coca-Cola” loudly proclaims the cart-sides in the Spenserian script of this iconic logo.  And this is no crass product placement, but rather an assiduously picked historical product.  Coca-Cola is in fact not merely some soda, but it is practically the soda.  In fact the word “coke” is eponymous with the word “soda,” often if a waiter will ask what kind of coke you’d like to drink, and you may respond “Root beer, please.”  Its not very surprising that the words are wrapped up with each other, especially since Coca-Cola is 131 years old and it was invented before anyone knew what a soft drink was.

    The year is 1886.  John Pemberton, a prominent druggist and chemist living in Atlanta, Georgia, creates the first batch of Coca-Cola syrup in his back yard in a brass kettle.  This was no accident: Mr. Pemberton was an inventor of patent medicines and had many successful products on the market throughout the South (including Extract of Styllinger for the blood, Triplex Liver Pills for the liver, and Indian Queen Hair Dye for the hair).  In fact “Pemberton’s Tonic” as the syrup was originally called, was a modification on an earlier medicine which had included alcohol.  “Pemberton’s Tonic” was a cure for headaches, relieved exhaustion, and countered mental depression, and since he had removed the alcohol and replaced it with a sugar-syrup base, it tasted pretty good too.  Once established in the pharmacies of Atlanta, druggists began mixing the Coca-Cola syrup with carbonated water, turning it into a soda.

    From the inventor John Pemberton the story of Coca-Cola passes to a businessman named Asa Candler who in 1888 purchased the production materials and rights to the “Delicious!  Refreshing!  Exhilarating!  Invigorating!” beverage (as its first newspaper advertisement proclaimed it) and swiftly began to enlarge the scope of Coca-Cola.  Still marketed as a pick-me-up and headache cure which Candler championed since he himself suffered from chronic headaches.  His business did well, and Candler consolidated until the only product his company sold was Coca-Cola.  And the soon to be famous soft drink did well by him.  The company boomed.  Everyone was drinking the new concoction, for health or just because they liked the flavor.  By 1894 the first branch factory to produce the Coca-Cola syrup was opened in Dallas, Texas.  And by 1900 Coca-Cola was international.  The drink was being sold in three different countries.

    From there “the pause that refreshes” went on to intertwine itself with American history.  It followed our troops during World War II.  It came to represent Freedom and Capitalism to communist countries where Coca-Cola was banned.  Come and see more about how small objects from over a hundred years ago have affected the course of American events.  Come to Dallas Heritage Village and Open History.

Generous funding for our Learning Cart was provided by the Coca-Cola company, thank you!

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