How do you keep an exhibit about the world’s best kept secret a secret? That was a key issue facing the team that worked for more than a year to design and install the “Vault of the Secret Formula” exhibit at the World of Coca-Cola in Atlanta. The first step in the process is a good secret code name. At Coca-Cola we have come up with some pretty good ones over the years and a lot of thought can go into the name. For example, “Project Kansas” was the codename for the project to produce New Coke and was selected based on a quote by William Allen White, who described Coca-Cola as the “sublimated essence of all America stands for” in the Emporia, Kansas Gazette.
In this case, I was privileged to get to select the codename and I picked “Guaranty” for our project. Guaranty represented what I thought was one of the more interesting stories concerning the formula. When Ernest Woodruff and his fellow investors were trying to purchase The Company from the Candler family, the asking price for the Company was $ 25 million dollars. While Ernest Woodruff controlled the Trust Company of Georgia, it was a small regional bank and $ 25 million was more capital than the bank could raise. Woodruff needed additional investors. He found a partner in the Guaranty Trust Company of New York. They agreed to loan money toward the purchase… if Ernest Woodruff would use the secret formula as collateral for the loan.
So, in 1919, the famous formula for Coca-Cola was placed in a vault at the Guaranty Trust in New York and Earnest Woodruff and his partners received a loan, which when coupled with the public sale of shares of Coca-Cola stock, raised the needed $ 25 million to purchase The Coca-Cola Company.
In the next chapter of the story, Ernest Woodruff’s son, Robert Woodruff, took over as President of The Coca-Cola Company in 1923. He made it a priority to pay off the loan to Guaranty Trust. In 1925, with the loan paid off, Robert Woodruff retrieved the formula from Guaranty Trust and, traveling by train, returned it to Atlanta where he had the formula placed in a vault at the Trust Company of Georgia. As I did research for the exhibit, I often wondered how much security Robert Woodruff must have had with him on the overnight train ride from New York to Atlanta.
For more than a year, a select team of employees understood that communications and activities regarding Project Guaranty needed to be handled as very confidential. Through some truly remarkable efforts on the part of the team, Project Guaranty remained confidential until the day of the Company’s official announcement of the new exhibit.
Now, if you are able to visit the World of Coca-Cola and see the Vault of the Secret Formula, you will be “in the know” about the Guaranty codename.
Ted Ryan is the Director of Heritage Communications at The Coca-Cola Company.