1886: Trying to come up with a headache cure and general pain reliever, pharmacist John Pemberton invents the beverage that will become known to the world as Coca-Cola in a backyard kettle.
Pemberton received a medical degree at 19 and worked as a druggist in Columbus, Georgia, before joining the Confederate army during the Civil War. He rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel with the Third Georgia Cavalry and was severely wounded in battle.
Trying to control the pain resulting from those wounds, Pemberton became addicted to morphine.
After the war, Pemberton settled in Atlanta, where he began work on a beverage combining coca leaves and cola nuts. His objective was to create a pain reliever but when his lab assistant accidentally mixed the concoction with carbonated water on May 8, 1886, the two men tasted it, liked it, and decided it might make a profitable alternative to ginger ale and root beer.
Pemberton sold the rights to Coca-Cola (twice, actually, but that’s another story) as his behavior became more erratic. He died only two years after his accidental invention and only a few months after the Coca Cola Corporation was incorporated.
It’s no urban myth: Coca leaves do indeed contain traces of cocaine, which was then believed to help control one’s dependence on opiates, including the morphine that helped end Pemberton’s life at 57.