October 29, 2022 | Last updated Jun 2, 2023

Timeline Tuesday: Lurking in every Coca Cola glass is an ‘evil principle’

Caption: Interior of Fred Trute’s liquor store, Seward, Nebraska. RG2536-5-10


Readers of The Nebraska Issue (Lincoln), official organ of the Anti-Saloon League in this state, were once counseled on avoiding alcohol and other drugs in their daily lives. The November 1907 number of the Issue included Dr. J. J. Ridge’s brief article on “Substitutes for Brandy.” Dr. Ridge listed nonintoxicating stimulants that he believed could replace brandy for use in emergencies such as “faintness, palpitation or relief of pain, such as colic.” “First.-Water as hot as can be conveniently swallowed either alone or slightly sweetened to be sipped. Even cold water sipped stimulates the heart. “Second.-Ginger tea, one teaspoonful to a teacupful of boiling water; sweeten. Sip hot. “Third.-Herb tea, a teaspoonful of powdered sage, mint or similar herb to a teacup of boiling water; sweeten: sip hot. Camomile tea taken warm is especially suitable for the colic of infants. “Fourth-Meat extract, a teaspoonful in a wineglass of hot water with herb flavoring if preferred. “Fifth.-Other measures, flapping the face and chest with a cold, wet towel, putting the hands in hot water, ammonia, or smelling salts to the nostrils, tickling the nostrils with a feather, etc.” One drink that temperance workers did not view as an acceptable substitute for alcohol was the “popular summer drink so extensively advertised in all the papers and magazines of our country”-Coca Cola.

The soft drink was concocted by pharmacist John Pemberton in 1886 and so named because it was flavored using kola nuts, a source of caffeine, and included trace extracts of coca leaf (gradually removed from the formula by about 1905). However, temperance organs like The Issue believed that Coke contained a drug and complained in July 1907: “Even the advertising columns of many of our best religious periodicals are open to it. These papers would doubtless reject this matter were the true nature of Coca Cola known, for lurking in every glass is an evil principle that is gradually deceiving and enslaving the drinker.” The Issue concluded, “Here is another field of education and agitation. Doubtless the majority of drinkers [of Coca Cola] believe, when they begin at least, that it is perfectly harmless. It is for us to give the alarm lest when we have conquered the alcoholic drink evil we shall have one more subtle with which to contend-a drug habit.”

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