The Man Behind Coca-Cola: The Early Years of Asa Candler

It has become such an integral part of American culture that when the Coca-Cola Company tried to change the original formula for its flagship drink in the mid-1980s, the public backlash was overwhelming; the Old Cola Drinkers of America was even established and tried to sue the company. Today, Coke is sold in the stores, restaurants, and vending machines of over 200 countries. The company is one of the largest in America, and also the largest manufacturer, distributor and marketer of nonalcoholic drink concentrates in the world, with over $24 billion in revenue and 71,000 employees. The man behind all of that growth is Asa Candler.

Born on December 30, 1851 in Villa Rica, Georgia, Asa Griggs Candler was the eighth of eleven children to Samuel and Martha Candler. He grew up during the time of the American Civil War. Candler’s father was a well-established merchant and property owner, but the war would take its toll on the family; they often had no more than the bare necessities. Candler’s formal education began when he was five years old, but was sporadic throughout. When he was ten years old, he left school and spent his time working on his father’s farm. While he could have opted to attend Emory College, he instead let his brother, Warren attend in his place, believing that Warren’s desire to enter the Ministry was a noble one.

Candler had a keen sense for business from an early age. One day, after hearing some noise coming from under the kitchen of the family farm where they kept their chickens, Candler went down to discover the presence of a mink. He chased the animal out of the house and through the yard until he finally caught it with his bare hands. The mink bit Candler on the arm – leaving a permanent scar – but Candler managed to kill it. He finally sent the mink’s pelt off to Atlanta, thinking he would get perhaps seventy-five cents for it, but instead he made a profit of one dollar. “The man who bought it wanted more,” said Candler. “I started people in the neighbourhood catching minks, and the skins we sold brought quite a sum.”

Candler was anxious to enter the working world. He had an interest in the medical field, but with no money for medical school, he decided to pursue a career as a druggist. He took on an apprenticeship with two pharmacists in his hometown, but his earnings were meager. So, Candler decided to move to Atlanta in search of better opportunities.

In 1873, with just $1.75 in his pockets, Candler made the move to Atlanta, where he would live out the rest of his life. He landed a job with a local druggist by the name of George J. Howard. His early success and work ethic led to his promotion as chief clerk. However, after a falling out with Howard – Candler had begun a relationship with his 15 year old daughter of which Howard disapproved – Candler decided to strike out on his own and become his own boss.

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