12 Refreshing Facts About Coca-Cola

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iStock

Most pharmacists admit that pretty much anything they mix up is going to taste awful. The most spectacular exception: Coca-Cola, a flavored syrup combined with carbonated water that was invented by Atlanta druggist John S. Pemberton in 1886 and has gone on to become one of the most beloved refreshments of the modern world. Check out some facts about Coke's illustrious history, why Pepsi once gave them a hand, and how bottlers developed some of the most huggable curves in the world.

1. IT USED TO BE FREE.

While Pemberton’s soft drink would eventually prove to be a hit at soda fountains, he was more of an idea man than a marketing expert: Coca-Cola languished for years until a businessman named Asa Griggs Candler took over the business following Pemberton’s death in 1888. To raise awareness, Candler had sales representatives hand out coupons good for a free serving. Once people tried it, they kept coming back for more—and forking over five cents a glass thereafter.

2. THE FAMOUS BOTTLE WAS ORIGINALLY SHAPED LIKE A COCOA BEAN.

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While Candler was undeniably a better businessman than Pemberton, he made one significant misstep. At the turn of the century, Coca-Cola was usually sold at pharmacies and drug stores as a fountain drink. When bottlers approached Candler to see if he’d be interested in allowing them to distribute it in glass containers, Candler thought so little of the idea he allowed them to package the drink for a fee of just one dollar.

His inadvertent generosity proved profitable for bottlers across the country, including rival sodas: So many knock-off brands appeared that consumers had trouble telling them apart from the real thing. To alleviate the problem, Coke advised bottling partners to try and come up with a design that could be recognized by feel as someone dipped their hands into an icebox. A bottling plant in Indiana designed a chunky glass container shaped like a cocoa bean in 1916. They didn’t know Coca-Cola contained no actual cocoa. (It used coca, which contained trace amounts of cocaine until the company removed it circa 1900.) Still, the bottle became iconic, and Candler went out on a high note: After leaving the company that same year, he became mayor of Atlanta.

3. IT HIT THE SPOT FOR INFANTS.

Though some of the more serious health effects of sodas are well-documented today, Coke enthusiasts of the late 1800s were not exactly concerned with the effects of sugar water on babies. Fussing infants were sometimes given drops of the drink in the hopes it might calm them down.

4. NEW COKE ACTUALLY HUNG AROUND FOR A LONG TIME.

While the tragic story of New Coke’s 1985 debut has been well-documented, not many realize that Coke clung to the idea of an alternative formula for a very, very long time. After consumers berated the company into bringing back their original flavor just months after New Coke’s debut—test marketing subjects who endorsed it were never told it was going to replace the original—the company tried to rebrand it as Coke II and continued offering it to bottlers until 2002. It may have been in the hope that persistence would pay off: The revised formula allegedly contained fewer ingredients and was cheaper to produce than Coke Classic. If consumers had rallied, the company might have saved over $50 million a year.

5. THE CANS WERE INVENTED FOR SOLDIERS.

The only thing more pervasive than Coke’s distinctive bottles are its aluminum pull-top cans, which were born out of necessity: The company came up with them so they could be shipped to armed forces overseas. While practical, the materials needed were rationed during World War II and the company couldn’t produce them for troops until the conflict ended. Convenient and easily distributed, Coca-Cola began offering them to civilian customers in 1960.

6. THEY ONCE MADE CLEAR COKE FOR A RUSSIAN GENERAL.

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Coke’s global expansion was expedited during World War II, when bottling plants were erected specifically to handle the demands of supplying men overseas. The distribution also caught the attention of foreign consumers: General Dwight Eisenhower introduced Coke to Georgy Zhukov, a Russian general who had resisted Nazi forces. Zhukov loved it, but feared Stalinist-era Russia would frown upon his enjoying a distinctly American and capitalist product. He requested Coke produce the drink for him in a plain bottle and make it colorless to resemble vodka; Coke complied. Russians didn’t get the Classic version until 1985.

7. THEY TRIED TO REPLACE COFFEE.

When Coca-Cola realized a good portion of their customers—by one estimate, 12 percent—consumed their sugary, caffeinated drink in the morning instead of coffee, they decided to launch an aggressive marketing campaign promoting themselves as a morning pick-me-up. "Coke in the Morning" was launched in several test cities in 1988, with the idea being that it would be easier to guzzle a cold can of soda than a hot cup of water. (The company was careful, however, not to imply soda could replace orange juice. They owned Minute Maid.)

8. THEY ONCE FILLED CANS WITH DISGUSTING WATER ON PURPOSE.

In 1990, Coke mounted an expensive promotional campaign dubbed "MagiCans." When consumers purchased soda, they had a chance at acquiring a special spring-loaded can distributed at random that would spit out a rolled-up bill valued from $1 to $500. To make sure buyers couldn’t tell the weight of a "real" Coke from that of a prize container, the company filled it with a solution consisting of water, chlorine, and ammonium sulfate. While it tasted and smelled foul to discourage drinking, some consumers gulped it down anyway—and then threatened to sue. (Rival Pepsi ran a similar contest, but didn’t bother with the misdirection: It just gave consumers a number to call to claim a prize.)

9. PEPSI DID THEM A HUGE FAVOR.

In 2006, two Coca-Cola employees were caught trying to sell rival Pepsi trade secrets, including information on a beverage still in development, in exchange for an escalating series of payoffs from $5000 to $75,000. The employees handed over confidential papers and even a liquid sample to someone they thought was a Pepsi executive: It was an FBI agent. Pepsi had alerted both Coke and the FBI of the offer. A Pepsi spokesman told CNN that competition “must be fair and legal.” The two carbonated corporate spies received prison terms of five and eight years, respectively.

10. THEY HELPED MAKE MAX HEADROOM A STAR.

The bizarre, pseudo-animated Max Headroom character was created as a virtual television star in the UK by record company Chrysalis in 1985. Sensing his appeal for young consumers, Coca-Cola licensed Headroom that same year and made him the center of their ad campaign with a series of commercials directed by Ridley Scott. According to Coke, the spots helped Headroom gain a 76 percent recognition rating among teenagers.

11. THE SECRET FORMULA IS REALLY NO BIG SECRET.

Much has been made of how fiercely Coca-Cola has guarded its formula over the decades. Dubbed "7X," it’s said to be housed in a corporate vault and accessible only to top executives. In 2011, NPR’s This American Life announced that they had come across the recipe via the papers of an Atlanta historian named Charles Salter, who had seen it in a pile of documents belonging to Coke inventor John Pemberton. In addition to fluid extract of coca, the drink purportedly includes lemon oil, cinnamon oil, nutmeg oil, and caramel. Responding to the ensuing media flurry, Coke insisted it was, if anything, an old version of the solution—but they never acknowledged whether they had checked NPR’s list of ingredients against their own.

12. WANT THE BEST COKE? TRY MCDONALD'S.

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The two consumer-product giants have been joined at the hip since 1955, when McDonald’s owner Ray Kroc contacted the company about providing fountain drinks for his burgeoning chain of fast-food shops. Coke has since partnered with the Golden Arches on menu development (like smoothies) and even allows them to use its corporate facilities when expanding globally. The best perk of all, however, might be with the drink itself. According to The New York Times, Coke ships its syrup to McDonald’s locations in stainless steel containers, not the conventional plastic bags other suppliers use. The result is said to be the most delicious, freshest Coke available.

This piece originally ran in 2016.

Keep Your Kitchen Clean With This Spoon Rest That Clips Straight Onto Your Pot

Amazon
Amazon

No matter how clean you keep things between meals, your organized, tidy kitchen can easily turn to chaos when it's time to start cooking. You can take steps to mitigate this, like setting up a mise en place and cleaning as you go, but some messy kitchen habits are hard to avoid. One of them is resting a dirty spoon on the counter while making stews, sauces, or anything else that requires lots of tasting and stirring as it cooks on the stove. If wiping off your spoon after each dip is an unrealistic goal, there's another way to stay neat.

The Trudeau flex pot clip, currently available on Amazon, is a spoon rest that keeps utensils raised off clean surfaces. It's made from tough stainless steel and silicone that stays cool to the touch even when attached to a pot of boiling water. The opening is big enough to hold bulky cooking tools like wooden spoons, tongs, and pasta forks. There's also a small divot for securing smaller items, like regular silverware.

Spoon in a spoon rest attached to pot.
Amazon

Strong enough to withstand temperatures of up to 482°F, the pot clip is a great tool for stovetop cooking. But even if you're not cooking with fire, the accessory can help you maintain a clean kitchen. Clip it to the side of your bowl before mixing cookie dough, or use it as a spot to hold the ladle for your punch bowl. And when you're no longer using it, you can toss it in the dishwasher for easy clean-up.

You can purchase a Trudeau flex pot clip for $8 on Amazon. If you're looking for more tools to round out your kitchen inventory, here are some affordable basics to consider.

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we choose all products independently and only get commission on items you buy and don't return, so we're only happy if you're happy. Thanks for helping us pay the bills!

10 Frank Facts About Hot Dogs

StephanieFrey/iStock via Getty Images
StephanieFrey/iStock via Getty Images

Americans love a good hot dog—so much so that, according to the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council, we consume about 20 billion of them a year, which works out to about 70 hot dogs per person. In celebration of National Hot Dog Month (July) and National Hot Dog Day (July 17), here are some facts about franks to enjoy during your own summer barbecues.

1. Hot dogs have a surprisingly contentious origin.

Sausages have a history that stretches back to at least the time of Homer’s Odyssey, but the origin of the hot dog is just as tricky to pin down. There are multiple claimants to the invention of the hot dog, each with a slightly different innovation. Was the hot dog invented by the first person to shorten the name of German dachshund sausages to “hot dogs,” or the first person to put a sausage in a bread roll, or the first person to create a dedicated bun for holding a sausage? All of these creators have laid claim to the title of Hot Dog Inventor, but none have been conclusively verified.

2. Hot dogs might be sandwiches.

Hot dogs are tricky to define in another way as well, and both the general public and official organizations seem to have very strong opinions on whether hot dogs fall into the category of sandwiches or not. The National Hot Dog and Sausage Council says hot dogs are their own entities, but Merriam-Webster supports calling a hot dog a sandwich, based on the fact that it is just a piece of split bread with a filling.

3. Los Angelenos consume the most hot dogs per year.


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While you might expect Midwestern grill-masters to buy up the most hot dogs, the actual top consumers are Los Angelenos, who purchase 34 million pounds of franks a year. And Californians also top the per capita rankings: as of 2010, San Francisco consumed the most hot dogs per person per year.

4. Regional hot dog styles add a serious punch to the basic dog.

Chicago is famous for dogs with onion, relish, pepper, pickle, tomato, mustard, and celery salt, but Coney Island-style hot dogs with chili, cheese, mustard, and onions are popular in their eponymous region and in Michigan. The South prefers slaw and chili on its hot dogs, while wrapping them in bacon and deep frying are popular in other regions.

5. Japan has invented some colorful hot dogs.

The Japanese also love their original hot dog varieties, and black hot dogs took over the Tokyo market in 2013. The bun and sausage are dyed with black charcoal ash, which apparently makes no difference to the flavor.

6. Hot dogs and baseball have a long history.

Sausages have been served at baseball games since at least the 1890s. One story says that they were first served at the ballpark by the German who owned the St. Louis Browns, while another story claims an ice cream vendor decided to switch his product on a particularly cold day at the ballpark. Either way, they're still going strong after more than 120 years.

7. Hot dogs are the headliners at America's most famous eating competition.


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While legend has it that the first hot dog eating contest was held in 1916 to settle a casual bet—over who was the most patriotic, no less—the first recorded contest was in 1972. In that event, the winner ate 14 hot dogs in 12 minutes. In 2018, competitive eating legend—and now 12-time Nathan's champion Joey Chestnut—set a new event record, polishing off 74 hot dogs (and buns) in 10 minutes.

8. Hot dogs have been fed to royalty.

In 1939, the King and Queen of Great Britain visited Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt in Hyde Park, New York. In true American spirit, the First Lady made sure to serve hot dogs during a picnic at their Hudson River property. Apparently, King George VI enjoyed them so much that he asked for seconds.

9. Hot dogs made Clara Bow famous.

To drum up business, the newly minted Nathan’s Famous hot dog restaurant at Coney Island hired a pretty redhead to serve its customers. Soon after, she was discovered by a vacationing talent scout, and became internationally famous as the silent film era's "It Girl," Clara Bow.

10. There is official hot dog etiquette.

The National Hot Dog and Sausage Council put out this video on the correct way to eat a hot dog. The whole video is worth a watch, but some highlights include: no ketchup if you're over the age of 18, no wine pairings, no utensils, and it should only take five bites to consume the entire hot dog (though you can take seven bites for a footlong). It might not be proper Emily Post material, but how can you argue with the "Queen of Wien"?

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