Vintage Advertising: Coca-Cola

An alternative to morphine becomes a global sensation.

Vintage Coca-Cola sign
Quality Stock Arts / Shutterstock

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The first Coca-Cola ad in the Post appeared in 1922, 36 years after it was introduced as a patent medicine of coca leaves and kola nuts. The original formula was developed by a wounded Civil War veteran to help him reduce his dependency on morphine. He and, later, his son who took over the business eventually realized there was a bigger market for this first cola drink if it was served at soda fountains as a nonmedicinal, carbonated beverage.

In response to imitators, Coke began distinguishing its product by consistently using deep red in its ads and packaging and by always printing its brand name in Spencerian script (the same typeface used by Ford and Budweiser). It also began bottling its product in the familiar contour bottle still seen today, launched a national billboard advertising campaign, and introduced free-sample coupons as well as the six-pack. To keep its customers happy, it sold Coke by the glass or bottle for 5 cents from 1886 until 1959.

Coke expanded into the global market by sponsoring the 1926 Olympics and, in 1928, sending the U.S. team to Amsterdam with 40,000 bottles. It became even more visible in World War II when it appeared wherever GIs were stationed around the world. Today, Coke is marketed in every country in the world — except North Korea and Cuba.

Vintage Coca-Cola advertisement, where customers could purchase a bottle for 5 cents.
Coca-Cola ad from the September 16, 1922 issue of the Post. (Click to Enlarge)

This article is featured in the January/February 2021 issue of The Saturday Evening Post. Subscribe to the magazine for more art, inspiring stories, fiction, humor, and features from our archives.

Featured image: Quality Stock Arts / Shutterstock

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  1. I had Coca-Cola as a child and I think it gave me a fever so I stay away from it. I don’t understand the appeal of Mexican Coke Grace mentioned she liked better than ours. Bob said he bought a couple of bottles of it to have on hand for whenever. I did like the taste of Coca-Cola, and maybe could try a few sips of this type and see if it agrees with me. I just don’t want to risk a fever or feeling vulnerable and uncomfortable.

  2. Glad I happened to check this one again, I often don’t. Everything’s for a reason. Grace, thanks for your kind words and concern about my dislocated shoulder years ago. Very sorry that happened to your brother, David, especially in a car accident. Mine was more of a freak accident. Raking up a mess of leaves off the front lawn on a very warm fall Sunday. Was wearing shorts, t-shirt and flip flops while dumping leaves (with the rake over the hand scooper) disposing them into the open green recycle barrel by the curb. Somehow my feet slid on the grass with my right arm out-stretched, lost my balance and fell down.

    The only blacktop impact was on my knees but when I got up I knew something was very wrong. I drove myself over to the ER at nearby Sherman Oaks hospital, where it was reset. When I woke up I didn’t realize it was 4 hours later, and said I felt good. That’s when I found out I’d had morphine on top of the anesthesia. I was given painkillers (thank God) for the days ahead because it is awful. With my right arm in a sling I later asked for the stronger morphine and they explained it was too dangerous. I’m not a person who’s even done drugs other than a Dr.’s prescription but needed to be comfortably numb. We found a suitable solution.

    Yes, I did go ahead with the therapy which took a few months. I had to have Xanax, Ativan and Excedrin ahead of time to withstand it. My body wanted to ‘protect me’ from pain and I had to bypass its defense mechanism. No pain, no gain, literally. I did fully heal as if nothing had ever happened, and hope David did too regaining complete range of motion. Sounds like he did.

    I actually wish (God forgive me) it would have been the left arm instead of the right if this had to happen. That’s the arm with all the talent, with my left the ‘helper’ arm. It didn’t have to happen. My bad for wearing flip flops which I believe was the main culprit. I’ve never worn them again.

    When watching the Olympics, I have a much deeper understanding and whole new level of respect for athletes that have had dislocated shoulders and other disasters in the course of getting to the Olympics, and during them. I shudder when I hear (for example) hearing the announcer rattling off all of Lindsey Vonn’s disasters (including a dislocated shoulder) in a cavalier manner, only to see her wipe out more than once on the women’s downhill skiing. That what makes them champions; gold, silver, bronze or no medal. They’re all winners, regardless of ranking or from which nation.

    Thanks again Grace. While shopping today, I bought a couple of bottles of Mexican Coke to have on hand for whenever. I actually collect vintage Coke print ads from the 50’s-80’s. If you want a smile, check out some of the TV ads on YouTube (from around ’79) when their slogan was ‘Coca-Cola Adds Life/Have a Coke and a Smile’! 🙂

  3. I just love the timeless beauty of the Coke bottles and prefer the taste of the Coca-Cola from south of the border over the regular in our country. The diet and zero sugar ones have a chemical taste that are terrible, but they must sell well enough.

    Bob, I’m sorry you were in an accident that time. My brother David wound up getting a dislocated shoulder in an auto accident but had to wait hours to get it reset properly at the hospital. I hope you got to the hospital soon after it happened, honey. It occurs so quickly but took him several months to fully heal, avoiding the painful therapy on that left arm. Fortunately his more important right arm was spared, but still. He disliked taking painkillers. Did you get therapy on your shoulder or avoid it? I’m sure you went ahead. I hope so, because not doing so only prolonged David’s pain and limited his range of motion with that arm. I bet you’re fine now and can enjoy a Coca-Cola this weekend. I’ve got 2 ice cold bottles in my fridge right now.

  4. Spencerian script. I never knew it had a name besides ‘the Coca-Cola logo’.

    I knew it had origins to cocaine, but not morphine. That is interesting. Never had the former, but understand how the latter could become addictive quickly.

    In 2008 I dislocated my shoulder (extremely painful) and given morphine. They wouldn’t prescribe it afterwards.


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