Coca Cola: The Ugly History

Mark Thomas on Coca Cola

BBC (2007)

Film Review

This documentary investigates the unsavory history and practices of Coca Cola, the world’s largest soft drink corporation. Including

  • their support of the 1936 Olympics in Nazi and ongoing business collaboration with Hitler during World War II. When the US entered the war in 1941, its Germany subsidiary developed Fanta especially for the German market, owing to their inability to import cola syrup.
  • their refusal to promote African Americans to administrative and management positions, leading Martin Luther King to call for a nationwide Coke boycott the day before his assassination. The issue remained unresolved until 2000, when Coke settled a federal civil rights lawsuit for $200 million.
  • their longstanding battle with Indian farmers over the depletion of aquifers they rely on for well water.
  • their collaboration with right wing paramilitary groups in Columbia to murder labor activists and their families for protest poor pay and working conditions in local bottling plants.
  • their refusal to crack down on their sugar supplier in El Salvador for illegally employing 30,000 children under 12 in sugar cane fields.
  • contamination of local residents’ drinking water in Nejapa El Salvador.
  • refusal to honor growing call by child health advocates to cease advertising caffeinated drinks to children under 12.

Coke or Pepsi? History of a Global Sugar Addiction

The Cola Wars Documentary

History Channel 1990

Film Review

Coca Cola was first produced in 1886, when cocaine, morphine and alcohol were common patent medicine ingredients. The immediate predecessor to Coke was a concoction produced by Atlanta pharmacist John Pemberton called French Wine Cola, containing cocaine, alcohol and caffeine. When Atlanta outlawed alcohol sales In 1885, Pemberton left the patent medicine business to produce his renamed Coca Cola for the increasingly popular soda fountain trade. His first version combined cocaine with kola nut extract (a stimulant).

Pemberton, a cocaine addict, sold the company to another pharmacist Asa Kandler shortly before his death in 1889. Kandler added more sugar to disguise the medicinal taste and citric acid to disguise the excessive sweetness. In 1916, he began bottling it as well as dispensing syrup to soda foundations.

Pepsi Cola, Coke’s arch rival, was also invented by a pharmacist in Newburn, North Carolina in 1898. It’s name was deliberately deceptive, as it never contained either pepsin (an aid to digestion) nor kola nut extract.

During World War II, Coca Cola gained the upper hand by making an agreement with the US government to be the exclusive soft drink provider to US troops stationed in Europe and the Pacific. The agreement also exempted from the sugar ration, which virtually crippled Pepsi Cola.

In 1985, after Coke made the disastrous misstep of secretly changing the coke formula to make it taste more like Pepsi, the company faced a massive backlash from Coke drinkers, briefly making Pepsi the number one soft drink in the world. Three months later they re-introduced the original formula as “Classic Coke.”