and Other Coca Drinks
ęBy Digger Odell Publications

Today we have a cocaine problem in our country.  This problem is no newcomer to the American scene.   At the turn of the century, coca was added to many over-the-counter products.  It was widely advertised and freely available at the local drug store.  Indeed there were groups who warned of its effects and fought against its use but the population at large with easy access and probably little understanding continued using the these tonics and stimulants often to the point of addiction.  At least some of the time the public was not aware of the addition of cocaine as one of the ingredients.  Of all the coca products none was more flagrant in their advertising or more successful in their sales than Coca Mariani, a dangerous combination of wine and coca extract. The "Popular French Tonic," as it was called was billed as a "Tonic Stimulant" and they claim was used in Hospitals, Public and Religious Institutions. 

Advertisement from New England Druggist 1899.This ad clearly indicates the coca connection, unlike the labels which were objected to by the Editors of the Druggist Circular in 1915.  The product was of course promoted as "medical" but clearly they encouraged its consumption as a product for your health. 

 If the information in the ad is to be believed it indicates that the product had been on the market for the past 35 years making the date of its introduction about 1864.  While this may or may not be true the product was used in the United States for much less time.    

The information Mariani & Company provided to the United States Patent Office in their request for a trademark on the words" COCA MARIANI" tells a different story .  Calculating from the dates of the trademark application, the company was first producing Coca Mariani in this country around 1896.  Based on the archaeological evidence and the information from advertising 1896 is probably a more realistic date. More history about this company can found in another article on this site.

Mr. Mariani's efforts to protect his name with the United States Patent Office was no doubt prompted by the number of competitors vying for a market share. Lambert's Wine of Coca with Peptonate Iron and Extract of Cod Liver Oil with a 22% alcohol content  put up by the Lambert Pharmacal and Chemical Company of Detroit, Michigan advertised on the label, "We fully warrant this product to be free from any opiate such as Morphine, Codeine or Opium."  That it contained a substantial amount of cocaine was apparently not as alarming.  Their refined preparation  was labeled as a "tonic and general Nerve Builder."  In a notice of Judgment from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) issued March of 1910, Benjamin L. Lambert was charged with mislabeling under the provisions of the 1906 Food and Drug Act.  Lest you think it was the presence of cocaine that lead to his prosecution it was not!  The government, unable to tackle that problem directly, went after him on minor labeling technicalities.  They skirted the issue by claiming he had failed to label the package with a statement indicating the quantity or proportion of cocaine.

In a similar case, the USDA more vigorously went after the Koca Nola Company of Atlanta, Georgia.  This company was also found guilty of misbranding and of adulteration of a beverage.  In a judgment issued March 1910 The Koca Nola Company was charged in the first count with having shipped from Atlanta Georgia to Anacostia in the District of Columbia, 1 gallon of Koca Nola Syrup, labeled: "Delicious Dopeless Koca Nola.  The Great Tonic Drink."

The syrup was misbranded they said, because first,  the syrup contained cocaine and second, the package containing the syrup, bore the wording that it was guaranteed under the 1906 Food and Drug Act and failed to bear a statement on the label indicating the amount of cocaine present. The government quoted the law saying it was the "object of the law that the public shall be put distinctly on notice, and Cocaine, among other things mentioned in the Act, if it be in any preparation or food or drink, it must be so stated on the label." Thirdly, they asserted that the syrup was not "Dopeless" as cocaine was present and that this was false and misleading.  Furthermore, the presence of cocaine did "render said Koca Nola syrup injurious to health."

The company maintained its innocence of course arguing that its product was not a drug and therefore not covered under the act.  At first Mr. Austin, the company owner, along with two doctors "claimed to be under the impression that it had no Cocaine in it at all".  The government, represented by the Bureau of Chemistry found cocaine present.  The Koca Nola Company was found guilty on all counts, fined $25 for each for a grand total of $100, not exactly a crippling judgment.

Another soft drink you never heard of was Kos-Kola manufactured by Sethness Company of Chicago. They too were found guilty of misbranding and adulterating their product with cocaine without the mention of such on the label.  When the parties argued their innocence about the presence of the deleterious drug, the prosecutors pointed out that the name "Kos-Kola" indicated that a product of the cola nut was one of its chief ingredients, which is was not but it did in fact contain cocaine.  

Similar cases were fought and won against other companies.  One such was the Kola-Ade Company of Atlanta.  Another was  Cafe-Coca Compound, a syrup manufactured by C.C. and F. H. Bowden of Athens, Georgia under the name of the Athens Bottling Works. Still another was Rococola a soft drink sold by Lehman-Rosenfeld Company of Cincinnati, Ohio who, when charged,  entered a plea of guilty for misbranding their product which contained both caffeine and cocaine.

Another case was filed against the Celery Cola Company of Birmingham, Alabama.  This case was filed against J.C. Mayfield, J. G. Bradley, J. F Hawkins and J. W. Altman who were trading as the Birmingham Celery Cola Company. Sample were intercepted from an interstate shipment and found by the Bureau of Chemistry to contain both caffeine and cocaine, neither of which was stated on the label.  The defendants claimed that the Celery Cola extract was manufactured in St. Louis and shipped to them in barrels, each stamped with the guarantee.  The Birmingham company then mixed the extract with a boiling syrup, composed of sugar and water, in proportion of one part of the extract to ten parts of the syrup, and it was the syrup so compounded that was shipped by them.  Hence, they had no knowledge that it contained either cocaine or caffeine in any quantities. Their argument was meant to rely on the ninth section of the Food and Drug Act, which excused the dealer, who neither misbranded nor adulterated within the meaning of the act but might sell some substance containing ingredients which to them were unknown.  In short the argument didn't fly. The government stated it was the company's duty to determine if the ingredients used in Celery Cola were injurious to health especially since Celery Cola was intended as a beverage and not a drug.  The pointed out how  injury would occur from its repeated use rather than a rare and occasional use as a drug.  The owners were found guilty and fined $25 each.

Courtesy of the National Library of Medicine

Dr. Don's Cola was sold as a flavoring extract for soft drinks offered by the Warner-Jenkinson Company of St. Louis.  Their syrupy concoction was found to be made of cocaine, caffeine, phosphoric acid, sugar, flavoring coloring agents and water.  Despite the name it was not a cola nut product and so they were accused of misbranding. The defendants pleaded guilty and were fined. 

The height of the Coca Soda fad was the height of the "gay nineties". Coca beverages were literally served everywhere. The county fair, the national expositions with their crowds and exposure offered a place to hook the public.  Booths were set up with incredible displays. The real money to be made however was at the local drug store soda fountain. The soda fountain was an American icon by this time and was fully exploited by the Coca beverage manufacturers.  The Coca beverages could be sold hot or cold and with a variety of flavors. One would think that pharmacists would know better but most simply turned a blind eye. The Coca companies sold their product in bulk in syrup form to be mixed and consumed with in minutes of its compounding.  Nearly every drugstore had a fountain to supplement the business of selling drugs and to increase profits.  I expect they had many repeat customers.  More Coca beverages were dispensed at the fountain by the glass than were ever sold individually by the bottle. Under public pressure from the AMA and other voices, states eventually passed laws prohibiting the sales of such products.  The government went after the most flagrant violators and one-by-one, case-by-case they put the coca beverages companies out of business. 

What it would have been like 

in the 1890s?


wine coca.gif (181025 bytes) marianfount.jpg (251452 bytes) cocofount2 (Copy 1).gif (212247 bytes)

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Courtesy of the National Library of Medicine