American Pharmacists Month: John Stith Pemberton (1831-1888)


Special Note: During the Month of October, American Pharmacists Month, we will be highlighting historical and present pharmacy figures who have contributed significantly during the profession.

Contributed by: Marina Shahi, P3, Class of 2017

John Stith Pemberton was a skilled pharmacist and chemist who practiced medicine and surgery. Pemberton is well known for his invention of Coca-Cola, the number one choice of beverage to drink on a hot sunny day, according to NBC News. Pemberton was not only an inventor of an amazing drink but also a businessman. One of Pemberton’s accomplishments, a state-of the-art laboratory, still remains in operation more then 125 years later as a part of the Georgia Department of Agriculture as a soil and crop chemical testing facility (Pemberton & Martin, 2015).

Pemberton was born on January 8, 1831, in Knoxville, Georgia. He was very skilled and intelligent at an early, proven by the license he achieved at the age of nineteen in 1850 to practice Thompsonian medicine (also known as botanic principle). He obtained his degree from the Reform Medical College in Macon, GA, where he studied pharmacy and medicine.  And at the age of 22, he married Ann Eliza Clifford Lewis, had a baby named Charles Ney Pemberton, and settled in a house in Columbus,Ohio known today as the Pemberton House (King, 2015).

After Pemberton acquired his license in pharmacy, he started a wholesale and retail drug store in 1855 selling the raw materials for “pharmaceutical remedies” sold in apothecary shops and medicine shows across the south (Pemberton & Martin, 2015). In 1865, Pemberton fought in civil war where he served as a lieutenant colonel of the Confederate Army’s Third Georgia Cavalry Battalion in the Georgia State Guard. Along with many other civil war veterans, Pemberton was wounded during the war, and to ease his pain, he took morphine and got addicted. Pemberton, being a pharmacist, wanted to compound a drug that would ease the pain without leading to addiction. In 1885, Pemberton invented  “French Wine Coca” sold as a “nerve tonic, a mental aid, a headache remedy, and a cure for morphine addiction” (Pemberton, 2015). Later, in 1886, he invented “Coca-Cola” and opened a new chemical company, which produced his new beverage to be sold to the public.

In 1860, Pemberton established the laboratory of J.S. Pemberton & Co. in Columbus, Georgia, which was recognized as one of the most splendid chemical laboratories in the country by a reporter from Atlanta. Pemberton not only manufactured medicines but also cosmetics and perfumes also known as “Sweet Southern Bouquet”. Next, in 1869, Pemberton became the president of Pemberton, Wilson, Taylor & Co. in Atlanta. Then at age 40, Pemberton expanded his business to Philadelphia where he started his own brand of pharmaceuticals that was manufactured on a large scale in 1870 (Pemberton & Martin, 2015).

After all his previous success, Pemberton wanted to contribute more toward his profession. In 1870, Pemberton became a trustee of the Atlanta Medical College (Emory University School of Medicine), and from 1881-1887, he served on the first state pharmacy license examination board in the state of Georgia.  John Smith Pemberton was active all his life in the world of medicine and manufacturing. A newspaper of Atlanta described Pemberton as “a man of learning and distinction who was the most able physician Atlanta ever had”(Pemberton & Martin, 2015). Thanks to Coca-Cola, Pemberton succeeded in becoming well known, but he failed in making a drug that would cure morphine addiction. At last, Pemberton died of stomach cancer & addicted to morphine in August 1888.


  1. King, Monroe M. “John Stith Pemberton (1831-1888).” New Georgia Encyclopedia. 13 July 2015. Web. 20 September 2015.
  2. Pemberton, J. S., & Martin, M. (2015). Pharmacy in History, 29(2), 85–89.
  3. Pemberton, John Stith. “Encyclopedia of World Biography.” 2008. Web. 20 September 2015.

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