John Pemberton, an Atlanta pharmacist, invented Coke as a “patent medicine”. His first drink, an 1884 invention called French Wine Coca, was a copy of a popular French wine that included cocaine, but in Nov. 1885, just as the product began to sell, Atlanta outlawed alcohol sales.
The invention of Pepsi arrived in 1893. Its recipe contained a digestive enzyme called pepsin & kola nuts. Early Pepsi ads claimed that it cured indigestion and was ‘healthful’ taking its name from the word dyspepsia, which means indigestion.
Its creator was Caleb Bradham.
During this time, there was a rise in support for prohibition. It was tied to “Nativism” & the desire for whites to control Catholics, Native Americans, Asian-Americans & in the South, African-Americans. It gave officers an excuse to arrest blacks on the pretext of intoxication
Because of the Temperance movement, Pemberton introduced Coca-Cola in 1886. At the time, the soda fountains of Atlanta pharmacies had become gathering places for middle-class whites as an alternative to bars. Coke back then was considered a “middle class” drink.
As Coke moved out of segregated areas, Middle-class whites worried that the drink was contributing to what they saw as exploding cocaine use among African-Americans (since the drink included cocaine).
Southern newspapers falsely reported that “negro cocaine fiends” were raping white women which caused much chaos. By 1903, the company had bowed to white fears (and a wave of anti-narcotics legislation), removing the cocaine and adding more sugar and caffeine.
Coke in the 1920s and 30s rarely marketed towards African Americans alone because of it. Pepsi however, was another story.
As the country’s 2nd largest soft drink company, they were also in competition with Coke. Still behind in 1940, Pepsi’s liberal chief executive, Walter S. Mack, tried a new approach: he hired a team of 12 African-American men to create a “negro markets” department.
By the late 1940s, black sales representatives worked the Southern Black Belt and Northern black urban areas, black fashion models appeared in Pepsi ads in black publications, and special point-of-purchase displays appeared in stores patronized by African-Americans.
Overall, the Pepsi campaign was so successful, people began describing it usual get racial epithets. Because of white backlash, by 1950, Pepsi killed the entire program.
1955 would be the first year Coke used black Americans in their ads. Below is Mary Alexander of Atlanta’s Clark College and Cokes first black female model.