Now, if what I’m about to tell you is true, then this is a big deal, one of those awesome big deals that totally reinforces your belief that Auburn is the best at everything, the hometown of everything good, even—and somehow, deep down, like Leia, you always knew—Coca-Cola.
You heard right: Coca-Cola. Coke. The Real Thing.
Travel back with me if you will to the 1880s. Confederate veteran Dr. John Stith Pemberton is a pharmacist in Columbus, Ga. And dude is a morphine addict. (That’s what happens when you get slashed by a Yankee sabre a la The Patriot.) He decides he needs something to break his addiction. He invents Coke.
Now, that’s obviously the yada yada yada version. But that’s the way it seems to go with Coke creationism. The story of Coke told by the internet is pretty patchwork, full of date discrepancies and ultimately self-referencing Wikipedia citations. But for the sake of this story—and until a Coke rep cares enough to dispute it—we’re going with the Coca-chronology presented in a 1975 Plainsman story, in which a respected, book-writing Auburn pharmacy professor straight up claims that the magic, primordial syrup that in the mid 1880s would become the blood of Coca-Cola, the stuff that gives that taste to the stuff that is now served 1.7 billion times each day, was first sold at a drugstore in Auburn.
“According to Dr. George M. Hocking, professor of pharmacy at Auburn University, Pemberton sold his ‘magic formula,’ as it was called, as a child stimulant tonic,” the Plainsman wrote. “This syrup was distributed in a drugstore located on the main street, now College Street in Auburn.”
Which drugstore? The Plainsman understandably went with Toomer’s; Hey, if you’re going to link Coke and Auburn, link Coke and Auburn.
“Toomer’s was the only drugstore in this location during the late 1800s,” Mac Lipscomb, then owner of the store—the Lipscomb family still technically own the property or something—told the Plainsman. He’s partly right. There was a drugstore inside the building that is now Toomer’s Drugs in the 1880s, just not Toomer’s Drugs, which openened in 1896 and until 1900 operated on the same side of College Street as its present location, but a few doors down. That’s when H. R. Bragaw sold his much older store (opened in 1865) and Lazarus and Toomer’s made their move.
That turn-of-the-century-ish photo of Toomer’s Corner? It doesn’t show the Toomer’s Oaks, but it does show a Coca-Cola sign on the side of whichever drug store at the corner it actually was at the time. But by then Pemberton’s cocaine-fueld “infant soothing” patent medicine elixir (“Does it hurt? Here, let mommy ‘blow’ on it…”) had already evolved into something close to the tasty tonic we know today.
And hey—a Coke archivist who in the mid-90s spoke with Mickey Logue and Jack Simms for their revised pictorial history of Auburn actually found something stating that 237 gallons of soft drink-purposed Coke syrup was sold at Toomer’s qua Toomer’s in 1903.
“He (the archivist) said the soft drink may have been sold in small quantities in Auburn during Coke’s earliest sales which began in 1886.”
Two hundred and thirty-seven gallons? In a town of maybe 1,500 people drinking maybe 8 oz servings at a time? Yeah, I think it’s safe to say it’d been pretty popular for a while.
But let’s back up—where did Hocking get the idea that the first purchase of Proto-Coke went down at “Toomer’s”?
“I obtained my information from the late Peter Brannon, a 1900 graduate of Auburn pharmacy school,” Hocking told the Plainsman. “He was the nephew of one of Pemberton’s business associates who was a part-owner in Brannon & Carson Pharmaceutical Company, now Kelan Robbins, in Columbus.”
OK, but why Auburn? Weren’t there drugstores in Columbus, which is where he, you know, invented the stuff?
“It is not clear why Pemberton came to Auburn. I have been told that he either married an Auburn girl or that he lived for a short time in the area.”
Not possibly came to Auburn, or could have come to Auburn—Doc Hocking is certain: Pemberton was in Auburn once upon a time and dropped some of this stuff off at an Auburn drugstore. And Hocking is certain because this Brannon guy was certain.
And there was a Brannon guy—a pharmacy grad student from Russell County. He’s in the Glom. But it’s the way he’s in the Glom. Hocking took Brannon at his word, whenever they shared that word, due to all that business about his uncle’s connections with Pemberton’s pals. But in 1900, just 15 or so years removed from the time in question, Peter Brannon’s familiarity with patent medicines (like Proto-Coke) was so established enough among his peers it warranted inclusion in the senior class prophecy:
“… I saw a tall slender man trying to persuade a woman that it was almost sure death not to have a bottle of ‘Mason’s Electric Bitters’ in the house. This man was my friend Brannon, who was now a patented medicine peddler.”
Where there’s smoke, there’s Coke, people. War Eagle.
* Don Knotts, Auburn student
* Former AU homecoming queen starring in HBO’s ‘The Newsroom’
* Bama fan legislator introduced bill to abolish Auburn University in 1973
* Auburn wore green jerseys… for two seasons
* Gus Malzahn, 1989
* Jeff Foxworthy walking around Auburn