History Book – Coca Cola, and the Game of Life


NICK EICHER, HOST: Next up on The World and Everything in It: The WORLD History Book. Today, simple pleasures: game night, a refreshing soda, and the open road. Here’s senior correspondent Katie Gaultney.

SONG: KING OF THE ROAD BY ROGER MILLER 

KATIE GAULTNEY, SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Ah, the highway. Nothing like the freedom of a road trip, whether by car, or—as it happened 215 years ago—by horse and wagon. On March 29th, 1806, Thomas Jefferson’s Congress authorized the construction of the Great National Pike, better known as the Cumberland Road. It took 26 years to build. When completed, the road became the first United States federal highway. 

Historian Hilary Miller spoke to CSPAN about the National Road back in 2017.

MILLER: This type of project was necessary because in the years following the American Revolution, there was a major disconnect between people living along the Western frontier and those in more established cities on the East Coast.

U.S. politicians feared that disconnect would create hostility toward the federal government on the part of Western settlers. And they suspected it would limit trade opportunities. So Congress appropriated $30,000 to create the 620-mile road that would connect the Potomac and Ohio Rivers. Planners envisioned it also becoming a main transport path to the West for thousands of settlers in this country that had only won its independence 30 years prior. 

Congress succeeded in its goal: the road was hugely popular. Historians estimate more than 200,000 people used the road annually by the 1840s. But, with the Industrial Revolution in full swing, the road eventually lost its luster. Miller explains.

MILLER: Of course, technology is going to catch up with us, and by the early 1850s, the railroads have been built to the Ohio River, which is pretty much making the National Road obsolete at that time as travelers are finding it to be faster, less expensive, and much more comfortable to take a train than it is to go over the mountains on the National Road. 

But in the early 20th century, the automobile brought the National Road back into the spotlight. It became a part of the U.S. Highway system and was renamed U.S. 40. Some of the original bridges and taverns, among other tourist spots, are now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. 

SONG: KING OF THE ROAD BY ROGER MILLER 

And from the thrill of the open road to the simple joy of a classic refresher. 

AUDIO: [CAN OPENING AND SODA POURING]

Of course, even now, it takes a lot to get Coke from the factory to a can to your fridge. But it wouldn’t have happened at all without the efforts of John Pemberton, who brewed the first batch of Coca-Cola in his Georgia backyard 135 years ago, on March 29th, 1886. 

SONG: I’D LIKE TO BUY THE WORLD A COKE (INSTRUMENTAL COVER)

The biochemist fought in the Civil War, where he suffered a stab wound. During his recovery, he became addicted to morphine. To overcome his addiction, he began tinkering with various tinctures, ultimately coming up with the recipe that would become Coca-Cola. The first iteration, though, was alcoholic. The temperance movement at the time prompted him to make a non-alcoholic version. Somehow, though, the small amount of cocaine derived from the coca bush stayed in the recipe until 1929. 

Pemberton claimed his soda water concoction would relieve headaches, exhaustion, and anxiety. He sold the company shortly before his death for $1750; about $47,000 adjusted to today’s dollars. In 2020, Coca-Cola’s value was $84 billion. 

And for our last entry today, I’ll tip my hat to World Journalism Institute grad Harrison Watters, who pointed out a fun anniversary for board game enthusiasts. Milton Bradley patented his “Checkered Game of Life” 155 years ago, on April 3, 1866. 

SONG:  ALWAYS LOOK ON THE BRIGHT SIDE OF LIFE BY MONTY PYTHON

The game had already been around for a few years by the time Bradley filed that patent, securing his fortune. He first introduced it in 1860, and the miniature version was a hit with Civil War soldiers. Within a year, Bradley sold 45,000 copies.

It was rooted in traditional morals as players advance toward old age. Unlike later iterations of the game, Bradley’s original version had dire consequences for bad choices, like gambling or idleness—consequences like poverty, ruin, and even suicide. On the flip side, players earned points for virtues like honesty, perseverance, and industry. 

Perhaps a sign of the times: When The Milton Bradley Company reintroduced the game in 1960, amassing a fortune became the new goal, versus Bradley’s original vision of demonstrating virtues.  

AUDIO: LIFE COMMERCIAL 

That’s this week’s History Book. I’m Katie Gaultney.


(Photo/iStock)

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

Like this story?

To hear a lot more like it, subscribe to The World and Everything in It via iTunes, Overcast, Stitcher, or Pocket Casts.

iTunes

Free

Overcast

Free

Stitcher

Free

Pocket Casts

(Requires a fee)


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.