When Atlanta pharmacist Dr John Pemberton concocted Coca-Cola's formula in 1886, it was initially a fizzer. Just nine glasses a day were sold on average during the first year. He couldn't possibly have guessed that his creation, mixed in a cast-iron kettle over an open flame, would one day become world famous.
Today Atlanta, Georgia is home not only to company headquarters so large it's practically a small town (the midtown campus even has a doctor's office to look after 4700 employees) but a slick downtown museum dedicated to the fizzy drink with a secret formula.
The museum's biggest appeal for me is that you can try dozens of Coca-Cola beverages from around the globe (500-plus global brands make almost 3900 types of sparkling and still drinks; in Australia, the company offers 165 drinks across 25 brands). Like a big kid, I can hardly wait to sample exotic flavours in the Taste It! beverage lounge.
Turns out I don't have to wait for the lounge to quench my thirst. Visitors can choose a Coke – original, Diet (the first brand extension, introduced in 1982), Zero Sugar or Life (with sugarcane and stevia) – to slurp during an introduction in front of memorabilia such as a sign promoting a glass of Coke for five cents.
We shuffle out to queue for the shiny, pop-riveted Vault of the Secret Formula. Inside, the story unfolds of how Pemberton created a syrup that could be mixed with carbonated water and sold at a neighbourhood pharmacy. At the time, the most popular soda-fountain flavours were lemon, orange, vanilla, pineapple, strawberry, cherry and chocolate.
Pemberton sourced his ingredients from around the world but I don't see mention of the rumour that his formula originally included cocaine extracted from coca leaves. Instead, it's a matter-of-fact account of how his bookkeeper invented Coca-Cola's name and logo, and how fellow pharmacist Asa Griggs Candler started buying shares in 1888, becoming sole owner of the secret formula and its trademark three years later.
Candler's $US2300 investment was a smart move. By 1919, the empire was sold for $US25 million. The only time the secret formula ever left Atlanta was when Candler put it up as collateral for the loan he needed to buy the company. The formula sat in a New York bank vault for six years. Today, it's in another vault – marked by a biometric handprint panel – within this larger vault.
Candler sold Coke's bottling rights for just $US1 but the move (along with innovations such as setting up bottling plants in combat areas to supply American GIs during World War II) helped make the soft-drink a mythologised global phenomenon.
Now, the concentrate could be shipped to bottling plants around the world, where it was mixed into a syrup with sweetener and water. The 1915 design brief for its seductive contour bottle was that it should be "so distinct that it could be recognised by touch in the dark or when lying broken on the ground".
Museum patrons queue again for a photo with Coke's polar bear advertising mascot but I hit the beverage lounge's rows of dispensers. Fanta Exotic from Uganda, Bonbon Anglais from Madagascar, Delaware Punch from Honduras, Mezzo Mix from Germany, Viva Zmeura from Moldova and grape-flavoured Fanta from North America are sipped and savoured in quick succession. It's one sweet way to travel the world.
Katrina Lobley was a guest of Brand USA and Expedia.
There's no shortage of ways to reach Atlanta, home to the world's busiest airport. Georgia's biggest city is the primary hub for Delta Airlines. According to Expedia's 2019 data, September is the cheapest month to fly to Atlanta. See delta.com; expedia.com.au
The AC Hotel by Marriott, near Centennial Olympic Park built for the 1996 Olympic Games, is two blocks from the World of Coca-Cola. See marriott.com.au
World of Coca-Cola is in the Centennial Park district. Open daily, admission $US17 adult, $US13 children. Atlanta is home to other great museums, including the National Centre for Civil and Human Rights, and Margaret Mitchell House, home of the Gone With the Wind author. See worldofcoca-cola.com; civilandhumanrights.org; atlantahistorycenter.com