John Stith was born in
Knoxville, Ga., in 1831. He was an only child of James and Martha.
He and wife Ann also had only one child, Charley, who followed him
in his business.
John was a lieutenant colonel in the Confederate army during the
Civil War. In case you weren't paying attention in history class,
the Confederates lost that one.
In John's last battle, he was shot and then cut across his chest
with a saber. He took morphine for his pain; in fact, he took enough
of it that he became addicted to it.
So what did a morphine addict do to deserve recognition in your
John Stith developed many different medicines and perfumes during
his career. Altogether, he established 18 business ventures. Out of
those 18, only one exists today, but that one business now does more
than $23 billion in annual sales and has a product line of more than
That business was based on the drink John created in 1886 that
contained a small trace of cocaine! Like I said at the beginning of
this column, stop me if you've heard this one before.
There are plenty of stories of inventors who created their
products in their garages. Well, John created his new drink in a
three-legged brass pot in his backyard.
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John Stith, the former morphine addict, originally promoted his
drink as a cure for morphine addiction. Actually, Stith was his
middle name. His last name was Pemberton, and he was a pharmacist
working in Atlanta, Ga., when he concocted his soon-to-be-famous
Atlanta is the home of Coca-Cola, and John Stith Pemberton is the
man who created the formula for Coca-Cola. But you knew that all
along, didn't you?
He used coca leaves and the cola nut in his formula for Coke.
Coca-Cola has said that John Pemberton never knew how big the drink
would become, and that appears to be true because he sold his shares
for around $2,000. He lived only two more years after incorporating
While Coke made a big mistake by changing the formula and
introducing New Coke in 1985, they made an even bigger mistake when
they turned down an opportunity to purchase the Pepsi brand in the
early 1900s. You can't really blame Coke, though, because there were
many other small cola companies back then similar to Pepsi, and
there was no way to know that Pepsi would someday become its biggest
competitor, especially since it had gone through bankruptcy at one
Despite that, the Coca-Cola brand is now the most recognizable
brand in the world, and the company does business in more than 200
Paul Niemann's column is syndicated
in more than 70 newspapers, and he is the author of the "Invention
Mysteries" series of books. He can be reached at
Copyright Paul Niemann 2009