March 29, 2015

It Happened on March 29th

First Batch of Coca-Cola, 1886

19th Century Coca-Cola Advertisement
Yesterday we celebrated the birthdays of Frederick Pabst and Gussie Busch, so I guess it's only fair that today we celebrate the invention of my favorite beverage, Coca-Cola. Of course, the formula was a little different when John Stith Pemberton cooked up the first batch in his backyard on March 29, 1886.

John Pemberton was a pharmacist and a Civil War veteran, and during the war he had become addicted to morphine. He was not alone: it was a commonly used analgesic during the war, and many, many soldiers came home with an addiction. He may have been searching for a cure to the addiction when he started experimenting with coca concoctions. He was almost certainly searching for a product to compete with Vin Mariani, a French product made from Bordeaux wine combined with coca leaves.
John Pemberton

Pemberton's first product was Pemberton's French Wine Coca. Like Vin Mariani, the effective ingredients were alcohol and cocaine. When Fulton County, Georgia, where Pemberton lived and operated his business, passed temperance laws, Pemberton began searching for a non-alcoholic version of the substance. He finally settled on a preparation that involved a base syrup that could be combined with soda water.

The name "Coca-Cola" and the distinctive trademark script were contributed by Pemberton's bookkeeper and secretary, Frank Mason Robinson. Originally, Coca-Cola was sold only in drugstores for five cents a glass. It was considered a patent medicine and Pemberton claimed that it cured many ailments, including morphine addiction, headache, dyspepsia, and impotence.

This coupon for a free glass of Coca-Cola was distributed in 1888.

John Tyler's Birthday, 1790

John Tyler
John Tyler was the 10th President of the United States, and the first one to become President due to the death of his predecessor, William Henry Harrison.

Harrison had only served 30 days in office before dying of complications of a cold he had caught, some thought during the inauguration itself. His death on April 4, 1841 caused quite a bit of confusion at the time. The Constitution stated that "In Case of the Removal of the President from Office, or of his Death, Resignation, or Inability to discharge the Powers and Duties of the said Office, the same shall devolve on the Vice President." It wasn't quite clear whether it was the Office that was devolving, or merely the Powers and Duties.

Tyler was determined that he was now President. The opposition was equally determined that he was only Acting President -- serving a function somewhat like a regent. Daniel Webster, who was then serving as Secretary of State, even privately asked Supreme Court Justice Roger B. Taney for his opinion, but Taney declined, not wishing to violate the separation of powers. Finally, on June 4, 1841 Congress passed a resolution naming him President. The ambiguous language in the Constitution would not be rectified until the 25th Amendment was passed in 1967.

Niagara Falls Runs Dry, 1848 

It took quite a logjam to stop this. "Distant View of Niagara" by Thomas Cole, 1830.


The first one to notice was a farmer named Jed Porter. Out for a stroll a little before midnight on March 29th, he noticed a peculiar silence. Taking a better look, he noticed that the normally thundering falls had turned into a mere trickle.

The dry spell continued for nearly 40 hours, and it caused quite a commotion. No one knew what had caused it, and some feared the end of the world. Eventually, news reached Niagara from Buffalo -- a strong wind had caused a huge ice jam at the northeastern part of Lake Erie, preventing the water from moving into the Niagara River.

For a full day, people marveled at the sight of the dry falls. Many ventured out onto the river bed and collected souvenirs, an extremely dangerous action considering that no one knew when the water might return. The owner of the Maid of the Mist took the opportunity to have some dangerous rocks at the foot of the falls dynamited out of the way.

That was the last time the falls were silent until 1969, when the Army Corps of Engineers built cofferdams to allow work on the American Falls. They were hoping to remove some of the rocks that had piled up at the foot of the falls, and might eventually turn the falls into a rapids. Upon getting a better (dryer) view, they decided the process was likely to do more harm than good, so they turned the falls back on.

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