Columbus, GA

The Inventor Of A Multi-Billion Dollar Company Who Died Addicted And Penniless

The Vivid Faces of the Vanished
Coca Cola BottlePhoto byKrisztian MatyasonUnsplash

On July 8, 1831, John Stith Pemberton was born in Knoxville, Georgia. John graduated from Southern Botanical Medical College in 1859 and became a physician by age 19.

He practiced chemistry, surgery, and general medicine using methods like herbs and steam baths in his treatments. In 1853, John married Ana Eliza Clifford Lewis, and in 1854 they had a son, Charles Ney Pemberton, the couple's only child.

In 1862, John enlisted in the Confederate army when the Civil War broke out. In 1865, he was wounded in the abdomen and chest by a saber and suffered lifelong unbearable pain. John used morphine as relief and soon became addicted.

John struggled to cure his morphine addiction. In 1884, he invented Dr. Tuggle's Compound Syrup of Globe Flower, a tonic created from the toxic buttonbush plant. Then, he created the French Wine Coca, the early version of Coca-Cola. French Wine Coca was made of damiana, cocaine, wine, and cola leaves. He advertised the tonic as a cure-all that made people feel good. He was right, because alcohol increases the effects cocaine has on the body, and the drink became extremely popular.

As prohibition approached, in 1886, John removed wine from French Wine Coca and invented his first batch of Coca-Cola with a fellow pharmacist named Willis E. Venable. Although they replaced damiana with cola nuts and wine with sugar syrup, the recipe contained cocaine until the early 1900s.

When John made the mistake of using his base syrup with carbonated water, the fountain drink Coca-Cola came to life. His friend, Frank Mason Robinson, created the brand name and the iconic logo.

Despite the success of the drink, John remained addicted to drugs. he eventually sold the rights to his invention to Asa Griggs Candler for $2,300 before dying of stomach cancer at age 57 in 1888. John was buried in the Linwood Cemetary in Columbus, Georgia.

Asa Griggs Chandler went on to found the Coca-Cola company, which, according to CAknowledge, has a current net worth of $265 billion.


  1. “Coca-Cola’s Uplifting Origin Story Leaves Out The Part About Its Morphine-Addicted Inventor.Business Insider. Aaron Taube. December 30, 2013
  2. “John Stith Pemberton, The Tragic Life of The Inventor of Coca-Cola.” National Geographic. JM Sadurni. April 27, 2022

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