Coca-Cola: The epic journey of a beverage icon

Written by Staff Writer at CNN Staff Writer at CNN

For centuries, Coca-Cola has been synonymous with the soft drink. With the help of one man, though, its iconic brand has also turned into a global icon of capitalism.

The man is David Thomas, who founded Coke in 1886 and handed the reins to the company’s founder, William Wells, in 1903. During the next 118 years, Thomas and his four sons ran the company until the final branch was handed off to new management in 1992.

David Thomas is pictured in 1944. At the time he sold Coca-Cola’s stock to institutional investors. CNN

William P. Wells was a farmer-turned-railroad carpenter who found the inspiration for the drink during a trip to New York in 1886.

Today, the company is run by Doug Daft, who took over in 1993 when his father died.

CNN The Coca-Cola Company in Times Square, New York City. (Credit: Courtesy Coca-Cola Company)

The sugar-based drink, though, is not all soft drinks by any means. The successful niche within the soft drink industry has long been for mineral waters, many of which claim to offer medicinal properties.

Coca-Cola is a pioneer in this industry. It introduced its first mineral water in 1955 and later bought up more brands in the decades to come.

Today, its Fresca brand in particular is so successful in Europe that the company has had to add thousands of store banners in order to meet demand.

(Coincidentally, Thomas began life making potato chips, but sold his stake in the company after realizing that the business was struggling financially).

(Another example of Thomas’ entrepreneurial spirit comes in the shape of his favorite drink, orange juice, which he started distributing for the first time in 1984.

With the new Coca-Cola Plant, in Mexico, which sells all its beverages in reusable bottles. Credit: Scott Olson/Getty Images North America/Getty Images

In total, Thomas — who died in 2000 — owned a large chunk of Coca-Cola’s stock, even during the company’s lean times. However, in recent years, the number of shares he owned has declined. A figure of 1 million shares is less than one percent of the overall shares of the company.

Thomas rarely traveled, and mainly stayed at home and watched out for his five children. One son ran Coca-Cola’s logistics department until his death in 2004.

All of Thomas’ five children are in the finance and management field today.

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