The Soviet Union once exchanged their warships for Pepsi when their vodka trade was not good enough anymore (we wrote the whole story here.) They’re not the only soda company that joined the whole war thing because their rival, Coca-cola, also hopped in during World War II to make sure that all American GIs had access to their sweet sugary drinks wherever they were. They took the job seriously as they even had Coca-Cola Colonels who would make sure that no soldier would be left sodaless.

The Creation of Coca-Cola

Coca-cola was first marketed as a patent medicine in the 19th century, invented by American pharmacist John Stith Pemberton when he was addicted to morphine and was trying to find a substitute for the drug. Before its formula became a trade secret, it was originally made from coca leaves and kola nuts. Thus the brand name. Prior to his creation, there were no colas yet, making Coca-cola the first of its kind and inspiring other companies to try and imitate the product. Its inventor called it a “brain tonic and intellectual beverage,” and offered it as a medicinal treatment for headaches, stomach ailments, and fatigue. He wasn’t just making all that up.  The original cola formula included cocaine extracted from the coca leaves which was legal and a widely used drug at the time.  The cocaine content was steadily stepped down until 1929 when it was removed completely from the formula. You see, Prohibition had banned the production or possession of alcohol and people were turning to Coca-cola in droves to catch a buzz.

When World War II broke, Coca-Cola was already being served in 44 countries, including Canada and North America. The entry of the United States into WWII war crushed their production, cargo ships once bringing coca leaves from South America were now carrying war materials and getting torpedoed by U-boats. The company had to close down one plant completely. Because of this, the cost of soda per bottle increased too, by one penny, which was a 20% increase.

As Coca-Cola wrote, they have witnessed how families were devastated that they had to send their loved ones overseas and join the war. They began running ads showcasing Coca-cola as a patriotic brand ready to follow the American soldiers wherever they were, “reminding them of home.”

“Every man in uniform gets a bottle of Coca-Cola”

It was in 1941 when America entered into the war scene. To show their sincere support for the brave servicemen and women, Coca-Cola President Robert Woodruff ordered: “to see that every man in uniform gets a bottle of Coca-Cola for five cents, wherever he is and whatever it costs the Company.”

It might not seem like a huge thing, Allied Supreme Commander General Dwight D. Eisenhower saw its importance that he sent a telegram to Coca-Cola’s headquarters in North Africa in Algeria on June 29, 1943. He requested ten portable factories, 6 million filled bottles of Coke a month, and the materials and resources to provide soldiers with the beverage which in those days was also served as a ready mix of syrup combined with soda water from machines, just like today at a convenience store.

A Coke machine being worked by the refrigeration crew of the 64th Seabees in Tubabao, Samar, Philippines. Gift of Joseph Cohen, The National WWII Museum Inc., 2003.083.071

This was a huge task that Coca-Cola was more than willing to do. The main challenge to making this request come true was how they would carry these supplies aboard. As Museum of The American GI wrote:

Vital equipment, gear, and food for survival packed the cargo decks and rooms aboard supply ships. Anything that wasn’t used for survival was viewed as nonessential, and that included crates of Coke. When Eisenhower’s plea was received by high-level executives from Coca-Cola, they started devising a plan to bring distribution of Cokes to combat areas. After six months of planning, a Coca-Cola representative flew to Algeria to turn their plans into reality.