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Vin Mariani

Before there was Coca Cola

Mariani tonic Wine - lithography by Jules Cheret,

One of the most successful Corsican entrepreneurs of his time, Angelo Mariani (1838-1914) from Pero Casavechje, was the grandfather, so to speak of Coca Cola.

A pharmacist, Mariani had gone on a journey to Peru, where he discovered the stimulating power of the coca leaf used by the Inca. He brought some home and invented a delicious elixir by mixing it with Bordeaux wine and spices, which he launched in 1863 as Vin Mariani.

Advertisement of Vin Mariani with Pope Leo XIII

Thanks to Mariani’s precocious advertizing prowess, it quickly became the most prescribed and popular tonic in the world—perhaps not surprisingly as each glass contained the equivalent of a line of pure cocaine.

Literati such as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Henrik Ibsen, Émile Zola, Jules Verne, Alexander Dumas, and Robert Louis Stevenson sang its praises: Queen Victoria, American President William McKinley, the Shah of Persia, the Grand Rabbi of France and Pope Pius X all indulged; Pope Leo XIII awarded Mariani a gold medal.

medal awarded to Mariani

In 1886, a pharmacist in Atlanta, Georgia, John S. Pemberton, produced a ‘French Wine Cocoa,’ with extracts from the African kola nut to add extra caffeine. And when the French medical academy banned Vin Mariani as addictive and the USA passed Prohibition, the new beverage Coca Cola was ready to take its place.



Text © Dana Facaros

Images by Ich on Wikimedia Commons, Louis-Oscar Roty, Creative Commons License, PD art