The Making of Coca-Cola Capitalism

Citizen Coke: The Making of Coca-Cola Capitalism by Bartow J. Elmore. The early history of cocaine:

"Coke never really owned the name Coca-Cola, at least not the 'coca' part. After all, the first half of Coca-Cola's moniker was merely appropriated from the ancient language of the Quechua people of South America. Over five thousand years ago, these Peruvian highlanders first used the term 'coca' to describe a shrub that grew along the steep, verdant slopes of the Andes. The Quechua became attached to this plant because they found that chewing its leaves kept them energized throughout the day. Coca leaf contained small quantities of cocaine, an alkaloid later iden­tified in the pharmacological world as a triple reuptake inhibitor, which meant it prevented the human body from storing important neurotransmitters that regulate blood flow and mood states. The result was that Andeans felt more alert and invigorated over longer periods of time while consuming coca leaves. Thus, long before there was Coca-Cola there was coca, and for millennia it belonged to the people of Peru. The story of how Coca­-Cola came to claim title to this Andean crop is long and winding.


"For centuries, Europeans, treated coca chewing as an indigenous practice unfit for civilized society. Though the first batch of coca leaves made its way back to the Old World in 1544, it was not until the mid-nineteenth century that scientific discoveries transformed the plant from a colonial curiosity into a conspicuous commodity. The major breakthrough came in the late 1850s when German and Italian scientists simultaneously isolated the coca leaf's most potent chemical constituent: cocaine. Since 1554, Europeans had been intrigued by people chewing coca leaves, and by the mid-1800s, they began to try in earnest to isolate the potent substance therein.


This was part of a larger chemical quest trailblazed by European scientists, especially from Germany, which had already led to the discovery of morphine (derived from opium) in 1817, caffeine (1820), and nicotine (1828), among other plant-based drugs. The honor of discovering the coca leaf's chemical stimulant belonged to Gottingen University doctoral student Albert Niemann and Italian physician Paolo Mantegazza, both of whom belonged to this growing com­munity of European biochemists interested in isolating the elemen­tal chemicals within tropical biota. Cocaine was indeed a powerful drug, capable, as Niemann described in his dissertation, of creating a peculiar numbness ... when applied to the tongue. Niemann's and Mantegazza's studies showed that there was magic in the coca leaf after all and that modern science could distill its powers for the world to enjoy.


"Just what cocaine would be used for in the Western world was not clear, but experimentation began almost immediately. As we saw in the first chapter, perhaps the greatest European promoter of the Peruvian drug was the Corsican Angelo Mariani, who introduced his coca-laced wine, Vin Mariani, just a few years after Niemann and Mantegazza published their findings on cocaine, but numerous other businesses, both in Europe and America, jumped into the fray, hop­ing to strike it rich in the coca bonanza. There seemed to be no limit to what people would try: coca cigarettes, throat lozenges, wines, and tinctures.


Almost anything was fair game.

"While Angelo Mariani relied on the solvent properties of alcohol in his wine to extract the cocaine he needed for his beverages, other businesses sought cocaine supplies from commercial manufacturers. In 1879, Merck of Darmstadt, the German-owned chemical company that would also become one of the world's biggest caffeine producers, began the first commercial extraction of cocaine from coca leaves, and soon it enjoyed a healthy trade in wholesale distribution of puri­fied, white cocaine crystals. Some of Merck's early clients were doc­tors who had found new surgical uses for cocaine. German physician Karl Koller was one such early buyer, who put cocaine to use as a numbing agent while performing eye surgery on a patient. Following Koller's discovery, interest in cocaine spread rapidly within the medical community. Citing Koller's experiment, the American Druggist, a popular publishing organ of the pharmaceutical industry, reported in June of 1885, 'Coca leaves and Cocaine -- are undoubtedly the lions of the day, no other drug having caused such a stir, professionally or commercially, for many years past.'


"The surge in coca demand inspired new investment in supply infrastructure. By 1887, Merck had competition from a host of new chemical companies in the United States and Europe. The entry of Parke-Davis, New York Quinine, Mallinckrodt, and other similar companies made cocaine available in larger quantities, and whole­sale prices for the narcotic dropped from over $10 a gram in 1884 to just 25 cents per gram two years later. In the United States, the federal government encouraged domestic output by placing, in 1896, high import duties on cocaine entering the United States while reducing the impost on raw coca leaves needed for domestic nar­cotic production.

Shielded from international competitors, American chemical-processing companies expanded their cocaine production exponentially in the 1880s and 1890s.


"Andean cocaine manufacturers did well, too, encouraged by local politicians interested in modernizing South American polities. Peru­vian scientists pushed for the construction of cocaine-manufacturing infrastructure in their country during the 1880s. They helped turn coca consumption from a tabooed native custom into an instrument of modernization. These Peruvian nationalists believed that the pro­duction of crude cocaine for international pharmaceutical compa­nies could help bring cutting-edge industry into remote corners of the Andes. The coca production boom expanded in the late nineteenth cen­tury. Angelo Mariani commented on this trend in 1896:


'For some time, as a result of the extended consumption of Coca and for a still stronger reason, now that the day is at hand when the consumption of Coca will assume greater proportions, numerous plantations of Coca trees have been laid out in regions where that shrub was formerly unknown.'"


author: Bartow J. Elmore

title: Citizen Coke: The Making of Coca-Cola Capitalism

publisher: W.W. Norton & Company

date: Copyright 2015 by Bartow J. Elmore

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