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  • Written by  Margaret Miller Curtis

One of the advantages of being married to someone my own age is that when I can’t remember something from the past, Dan can. This morning I was remembering the old metal ice coolers we used to see in grocery stores, so I asked him, “What was the name of that other cola we used to see floating around in those old coolers during the Great Depression?”

“R. C. Cola,” he immediately answered. I was impressed and tried to remember the names of other popular drinks of that time, but only Nehi Colas and Coca Colas came to mind. Coca Cola is now on the minds of a lot of Atlantans, who are upset that Coca Cola won’t be a sponsor for the Super Bowl this year. The game will be held on February 3 in Atlanta, recognized as the hometown and world wide headquarters of the Coca Cola Company. That is hard news to swallow, because Coca Cola’s arch rival, Pepsi Cola will be the sponsor instead. Bottled cokes will be banned, but Coke’s fountain drinks will be available.

Thinking of fountain cokes reminded me of our late friend, Hal Gibson, who, before he retired, was Vice President of Fountain Sales for the Coca Cola Company. When I told him about having once accidentally created a Coca Cola ad, he said I was lucky not to be arrested. He said it was illegal to use the name of Coca Cola unless it was approved by the company.

I became an accidental advertiser when Alyne McQuagge Pittman asked me to substitute for her as a local news announcer for Marianna’s radio station, WTYS. Before leaving town, she said she would   leave a script, including a Coca Cola ad, on the desk in her bedroom. A microphone on the desk would blink to alert me to begin reading the script. It would blink again when it was time for me to read the ad. Everything was going well until the light blinked a second time, but there was no ad!  I frantically looked behind around and under the desk, but quickly realized I had no choice except to ad lib.

I began talking about how Coca Cola had always been an important part of my life. I mentioned the time my Dad took me- just me- out to have a hamburger and a coke on my birthday. As one of five children, it was unusual-thus very special- to have private time with him.

I also mentioned how I loved meeting friends at Hightower’s Drug Store for a coke, because cokes were dependably affordable. As I was engaged at the time, I gave details of a nice Coke party Dorothy Jean Lewis had arranged as for me as a celebration of my engagement. I ended my spiel enthusiastically, claiming, “Coca Cola is a part of the best times in my life!”  Luckily, my ad escaped company notice, but it proved to be ahead of its time. Years later, Coca Cola used the same theme for its television ads.  

The Coca Cola Company benefits the city of Atlanta in many ways. When serving on the Council on Battered Women in Atlanta, I contacted the Coca Cola Company to request financial support. We wanted to establish a shelter for battered women and their children. One of our residents, a petite, shy blonde accompanied me. We were interviewed by Boisfeuillet Jones, Jr. who was president of the Woodruff Foundation. (Robert W. Woodruff served Coca Cola as its president from 1923 -1954 and was noted for his philanthropy.)

I explained the problem of domestic violence in Atlanta, and when Mr. Jones, a courteous and courtly gentleman, realized that the young woman with me was one of its victims, he looked aghast. He said the Coca Cola Company would be honored to support our cause, and a check was quickly mailed to us.     

Coca Cola was first marketed as a medicine and only sold in pharmacies. Because cokes were made from the spent leaves of the Coca plant, they contained a trace of cocaine which proved useful for curing stomach aches and nausea. Cokes rescued me from the morning sickness of four pregnancies, and our pediatrician also recommended Coca Cola syrup as a nausea treatment when our children were sick. As the original Classic Cokes contain caffeine and sugar, cokes are also energy drinks. During our children’s growing up years, I tried to keep cokes on hand but had to hide them. Even when hidden under our dirty laundry, the kids never failed to find them.  

In 1888, Asa Griggs Candler, who lived just outside Atlanta, decided to take cokes out of pharmacies and begin selling them as bottled drinks. The rest is Coca Cola history, which continues to be part of our family history too. As chance would have it, Dan and I have relationships with descendants of both the Woodruff and the Candler families. Naturally, we keep cokes on hand just in case they stop by.

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