Four-day Celebration, Mostly Private, Planned For Coca-Cola’s 100th
ATLANTA (AP) _ When Coca-Cola celebrates its 100th birthday this week with 25,000 guests and a parade that could be the biggest in Atlanta history, you can bet the party’s going to be a classic.
The company is bringing in about 14,000 of its bottlers, employees and their families from around the world to join about 10,000 Atlanta-area employees for the four-day celebration that begins Wednesday.
Between company dinners and business sessions, the world-famous soft drink will be honored with theatrical shows and exhibits of Coke memorabilia that include a reconstruction of the soda fountain in Jacobs’ Pharmacy, the Atlanta drug store where Coke was first served May 8, 1886.
Company spokesman Eric Riggle said the $1 million celebration would be mostly private because Coke’s use of the Georgia World Congress Center, site of most of the activities, is limited to a few days.
″What that does is give us just enough time to accommodate the 20-odd thousand people that are in the Coke family,″ he said. ″We’re not able to keep (the exhibits) open enough to allow the public to see.″
The public is invited, however, to join the celebration Saturday when a 100-unit parade moves through downtown Atlanta to the Coca-Cola Co. building, headquarters of the company that brings in $8 billion a year in revenues.
Riggle said the centennial celebration was planned look back at Coca-Cola, the product, but also ″how we’ll look ahead to the second 100 years.″
To that extent, the exhibits will include demonstrations of satellite technology the company plans for its international communications, and futuristic examples of vending machines, packaging and transportation.
Coca-Cola was invented, according to company history, in the back-yard kettle of Atlanta pharmacist John S. Pemberton. The fledgling company was bought in 1888 by Asa G. Candler, and by 1895 the soft drink was available across the United States.
Two Chattanooga, Tenn., businessmen - Benjamin Thomas and Joseph Whitehead - paid Candler $1 in 1898 for the right to sell bottled Coke, paving the way for international distribution.
In 1928, 13 years after the shapely, 6 1/2 -ounce Coke bottle was introduced, sales of bottled Coca-Cola for the first time exceeded soda fountain sales.
Robert W. Woodruff began a 32-year tenure as Coca-Cola’s president and chairman in 1923. Woodruff, who died in 1985, once said that when he took over Coke it was ″largely a soda fountain business, heavily in debt.″
Under Woodruff, the company extended its markets around the world. He also was credited with developing the concept of Coca-Cola as a cooperating group of independent local businesses, with fair profits at all levels.
In the 1960s, Coke began diversifying into ventures that continue in the 1980s under the current chairman, Cuban-born Roberto C. Goizueta.
Coca-Cola is in the television, movie and clothing business, and where there once was Coke, there now are 22 soft drinks marketed by the company in the United States.
The escalation of the so-called ″cola wars″ between Coca-Cola and its soft drink rivals, particularly Pepsi-Cola, led the company last year to abandon the 99-year-old formula of its flagship brand and unveil ″new″ Coke.
The response by consumers was overwhelming. They wanted the old Coke back.
Company officials, saying they misread the public’s loyalty to Coke, brought back the original formula under the label Coca-Cola Classic, and it outsells new Coke.
In the wake of the old Coke, new Coke controversy, rival Pepsi claimed it had the nation’s best-selling soft drink. Recently, however, Coke officials have claimed that Coca-Cola Classic is again No. 1; Pepsi disagrees.
Regardless of who’s first, some ask: Why all the fuss over a soft drink?
″It seems like we have grown up with Coca-Cola more than any other product, and I think it’s a tribute to how the company’s been a part of ... the happier times of their lives,″ Riggle said.
″We all have something to talk about when we think of Coca-Cola.″