By the outbreak of World War I, the push for a nationwide ban on alcohol in the United States was in full swing. The American prohibition movement was the sum of many parts, including various religious, women’s and temperance groups. Prohibition may also have enjoyed the financial backing of Coca-Cola. During debates on the floor of the US Senate in early 1917, James Edgar Martine, the junior Senator from New Jersey, claimed the prohibition movement was being bankrolled by:
“…the splendid wealth acquired through the manufacture of the decoction known as Coca-Cola… The owner [of this company] lives in a princely home in Atlanta… there is a lobby there and $50,000 has been put up for the purposes of maintaining the Coca-Cola interests… to shut people off from other beverages and hence make them resort to their drinks.”
Coca-Cola was itself invented to dodge Atlanta by-laws prohibiting the sale of alcoholic drinks. Despite its cocaine content and narcotic effects, Coca-Cola was permitted to be sold as a medicinal tonic rather than an intoxicant. Cocaine was removed from Coca-Cola around 1903 and replaced with high levels of caffeine. However, many still considered it a stupefying drink with potential dangers to the welfare of those who consumed it.
According to Judge Stark, Coca-Cola addiction was responsible for serious social problems in the state of Georgia:
“A half dozen reputable physicians have stated that there are over 300 girls in Atlanta that are Coca-Cola fiends and nervous wrecks… Coca-Cola and such drinks not only make physical wrecks out of our men but destroy the physical welfare of our women and children and make nervous wrecks of them. There are over 2,700 known Coca-Cola fiends in this state, and if all could be numbered it would amount to over 5,000.”
Whether because of prohibition or canny marketing, or both, Coca-Cola sales boomed over the next decade. In 1920, the company churned out almost 19 million gallons of the drink and generated $US32.2 million in sales. By the end of 1921, there were more than 1,000 Coca-Cola bottling plants across the US and the product was available at almost every soda bar in the country.