Photos of Vintage Coca-Cola Signs, from New York City to Bangkok

Coca-Cola, or Coke, is a carbonated soft drink manufactured by the Coca-Cola Company. Originally marketed as a temperance drink and intended as a patent medicine, it was invented in the late 19th century by John Stith Pemberton in Atlanta, Georgia. In 1888 Pemberton sold Coca-Cola’s ownership rights to Asa Griggs Candler, a businessman, whose marketing tactics led Coca-Cola to its dominance of the global soft-drink market throughout the 20th and 21st century. The drink’s name refers to two of its original ingredients: coca leaves, and kola nuts (a source of caffeine). The current formula of Coca-Cola remains a closely guarded trade secret; however, a variety of reported recipes and experimental recreations have been published. The secrecy around the formula has been used by Coca-Cola in its marketing as only a handful of anonymous employees know the formula. The drink has inspired imitators and created a whole classification of soft drink: colas.

The Coca-Cola Company produces concentrate, which is then sold to licensed Coca-Cola bottlers throughout the world. The bottlers, who hold exclusive territory contracts with the company, produce the finished product in cans and bottles from the concentrate, in combination with filtered water and sweeteners. A typical 12-US-fluid-ounce (350 ml) can contains 38 grams (1.3 oz) of sugar (usually in the form of high-fructose corn syrup in North America). The bottlers then sell, distribute, and merchandise Coca-Cola to retail stores, restaurants, and vending machines throughout the world. The Coca-Cola Company also sells concentrate for soda fountains of major restaurants and foodservice distributors.

The Coca-Cola Company has on occasion introduced other cola drinks under the Coke name. The most common of these is Diet Coke, along with others including Caffeine-Free Coca-Cola, Diet Coke Caffeine-Free, Coca-Cola Zero Sugar, Coca-Cola Cherry, Coca-Cola Vanilla, and special versions with lemon, lime, and coffee. Coca-Cola was called Coca-Cola Classic from July 1985 to 2009, to distinguish it from “New Coke”. Based on Interbrand’s “best global brand” study of 2020, Coca-Cola was the world’s sixth most valuable brand. In 2013, Coke products were sold in over 200 countries worldwide, with consumers drinking more than 1.8 billion company beverage servings each day. Coca-Cola ranked No. 87 in the 2018 Fortune 500 list of the largest United States corporations by total revenue. (Wikipedia)

According to TIME, during the 1930s, the company had begun to set up bottling plants in other countries. The photos here depict not just the way Coke began to blend into international surroundings, but also the wide array of American locales and subcultures the brand was penetrating.

Boy selling Coca Cola from a roadside stand, 1936.
Coca-Cola signs at a roadside store marked “For Colored,” 1938.
Coca-Cola is on sale at Jimmie’s Trailer Camp on U.S. 1, outside of Washington, D.C., in 1938.
Coca-Cola throws shoulders for a space among competing brands in 1938.
A drugstore boasts both Cokes for sale and the name of the then-first lady, Puerto Rico, 1943.
A man ponders a Coca-Cola ad in Columbus Circle in Manhattan during a heat wave in 1944.
A Coca-Cola sign at Anne’s Sandwich Shop on Cape Cod, during the summer of 1946.
A Coca-Cola road sign beckons on the Autobahn between Munich and Salzberg, Germany, 1947.
A Thai billboard makes a suggestion in 1950.
A Frenchman considers Coke’s allure in 1950.
A Coke truck makes its rounds in 1950 France.
A French Coca-Cola truck pauses on its route in 1950.
Jacobs Drug Store at the junction of Peachtree Street and Roswell Road in Atlanta, circa 1944.

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