The quintessential American drink is Coca-Cola. Nothing comes close. Culturally, the syrupy soft drink is globally recognized and cuts across all political, economic and social divisions and in a real sense, links everyone to a shared and usually pleasant experience. So it's only natural that there would be a Coke museum in the town where a pharmacist named John Pemberton, otherwise known as “Doc,” invented the concoction in 1886.
Pemberton fought in the Civil War, and at the end of the war he decided he wanted to invent something that would bring him commercial success. Usually, everything he made failed in pharmacies. Alas, he probably thought his soft drink failed, too, as he died two years after he mixed it up. He never saw what a winner he invented.
So much so that, since opening in 2007, the World of Coke attraction has seen ore than 5 million people shell out $16 to, in effect, experience a very long commercial for Coke.
Yeah, you do get all the Coke you want, starting with a free cold bottle to sip while a friendly hostess shows off old advertising signs and historic mementos, and ending in an upstairs tasting room where you can sample all the Coke you want as well as the dozens of ofter sugary, syrupy soft drinks the conglomerate makes around the world.
On the way to the tasting room, they make a big deal of winding you through a supposed vault that contains the Coca Cola “Secret Formula,” but you see nothing and the room seemed to be a pointless and unnecessary exhibit. Maybe I missed something, but like the 12 minute “movie” that we were all hustled into at the start of the tour that was nothing but a long feel-good advertisement, I found myself wondering about the worth of that $16 admission.
But then, as if the sugar high you undoubtedly have after all the free samples wasn't enough, your invited to take still another bottle with you as you exit the attraction through the gift store.
I was particularly interested in discovering whether some of the many myths surrounding the product were true, like the old rumor that the original Coca Cola actually contained cocaine. The attraction never did answer it. So I checked Snopes, the anti-rumor site, and learned that the original recipe indeed did contain an extract of coca leaves and kola nuts. Just how much cocaine was originally in the formulation is hard to determine, said Snopes, but the drink undeniably contained some cocaine in its early days, albeit a mere trace.
And then there was the rumor that a tooth left in a glass of Coca-Cola will dissolve overnight. Again, according to Snopes: “Coca-Cola will not dissolve a tooth (or a nail, or a penny, or a piece of meat) overnight…Coca-Cola contains acids (such as citric acid and phosphoric acid) which will eventually dissolve items such as teeth (given enough time), but so do plenty of other substances we commonly ingest (such as orange juice). The concentration of acid in these products is so low that our digestive systems are easily capable of coping with it with no harm to us.”
I didn't see any displays or exhibits about all the urban myths that have come up about the product at the World of Coke. Again, maybe I missed it. But those numerous Old Wives Tales are much more fascinating than the nostalgic ads and signs on display I did see and you'd think that the company would have had a fun display debunking them.
The World of Coke is on a 20 acre downtown complex called Pemberton Place that also features the Georgia Aquarium (an excellent place to visit – see my story) and the Center for Civil and Human Rights. There is a huge parking garage serving the three attractions but it can not handle RVs, so look for parking in private lots around the complex.
We visited it after touring the aquarium. It took about an hour or so to experience the World of Coke so you can visit both it and the Georgia Aquarium in a single day. Since both are next door to each other, you can easily walk to them. Arrive in the morning and you'll be able to be back on nearby I-75 before Atlanta's afternoon rush hour begins.