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The Chronicle Of Coca-Cola: A Man Named Woodruff

By:  The Coca-Cola Company Jan 1, 2012
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Ernest Woodruff


In 1919, a group of investors headed by Ernest Woodruff and W. C. Bradley purchased The Coca-Cola Company for $25 million. The business was reincorporated as a Delaware corporation, and 500,000 shares of its common stock were sold publicly for $40 per share.

Four years later, Robert Winship Woodruff, Ernest Woodruff's son, was elected president of the Company, beginning more than six decades of active leadership in the business. Before joining the soft-drink firm, the 33-year-old Georgian had risen from truck salesman to vice president and general manager of White Motor Company.

The new president put uncommon emphasis on product quality. Mr. Woodruff established a "Quality Drink" campaign using a staff of highly trained servicepeople to encourage and assist fountain outlets in aggressively selling and correctly serving Coca-Cola . And with the assistance of leading bottlers, his management established quality standards for every phase of the bottling operation. Mr. Woodruff saw vast potential for the bottle business, so advertising and marketing support was substantially increased. By the end of 1928, Coca-Cola sales in bottles had for the first time exceeded fountain sales.

Robert Woodruff's leadership through the years took the Coca-Cola business to unrivaled heights of commercial success. Merchandising concepts accepted as commonplace today were considered revolutionary when Mr. Woodruff introduced them. The Company pioneered the innovative six-bottle carton in the early 1920s, for example, making it easier for the consumer to take Coca-Cola home. The simple cardboard carton, described as "a home package with a handle of invitation," became one of the industry's most powerful merchandising tools.

In 1929, the carton was joined by another revolutionary advance, the metal, open-top cooler, which made it possible for Coca-Cola to be served ice-cold in retail outlets. The cooler later was improved through mechanical refrigeration and automatic coin control. Factories, offices and many other institutions thus became outlets for on-the-spot refreshment.

Much like the trademarked bottle, a distinctive fountain glass, adopted as standard in 1929, helped advertise Coca-Cola . Still used at many soda fountains, these glasses are visible proof of the timeless popularity of Coca-Cola .

The 1933 Chicago World's Fair marked the introduction of automatic fountain dispensers, in which syrup and carbonated water were mixed as the drink was poured. Soda fountain operators had dispensed Coca-Cola manually since its creation in 1886, and visitors to the fair were amazed to see the attendant pour a drink simply by pulling a handle. By 1937, the automatic dispenser had become an important feature of the fountain and similar "post-mix" outlets. Today, modern fountain technology continues to dispense Company products faster and better than ever before.

Refreshment Knows No Boundaries

Perhaps Mr. Woodruff's greatest contribution was his vision of Coca-Cola as an international product. Working with talented associates, he established the global momentum that eventually carried Coca-Cola to every corner of the world.

In the first two decades of the 20th Century, the international growth of Coca-Cola had been rather haphazard. It began in 1900, when Charles Howard Candler, eldest son of Asa Candler, took a jug of syrup with him on vacation to England. A modest order for five gallons of syrup was mailed back to Atlanta.

The same year, Coca-Cola traveled to Cuba and Puerto Rico, and it wasn't long before the international distribution of syrup began. Through the early 1900s, bottling operations were built in Cuba, Panama, Canada, Puerto Rico, the Philippines and Guam. In 1920, a bottling company began operating in France as the first bottler of Coca-Cola on the European continent.

In 1926, Mr. Woodruff committed the Company to organized international expansion by establishing the Foreign Department, which in 1930 became a subsidiary known as The Coca-Cola Export Corporation. By that time, the number of countries with bottling operations had almost quadrupled, and the Company had initiated a partnership with the Olympic Games that transcended cultural boundaries.

Coca-Cola and the Olympic Games began their association in the summer of 1928, when an American freighter arrived in Amsterdam carrying the United States Olympic team and 1,000 cases of Coca-Cola . Forty thousand spectators filled the stadium to witness two firsts: the first lighting of the Olympic flame and the first sale of Coke at an Olympiad. Dressed in caps and coats bearing the Coca-Cola trademark, vendors satisfied the fans' thirst, while outside the stadium, refreshment stands, cafes, restaurants and small shops called "winkles" served Coke in bottles and from soda fountains.

Mr. Woodruff's vision of the international potential of Coca-Cola is still being implemented and refined by the Company, its bottlers and subsidiaries, building the Coca-Cola business into an unparalleled global system for providing a simple moment of pleasure.