He brought us up through the creation of Coke’s distinctive bottle and the formation of its network of independent bottlers around the country.
Coca-Cola was the most popular drink of its kind in the country by the time World War I rolled around. But in addition to the many other challenges posed by that war, it also posed a specific problem for Coke. And that was the rationing of sugar that was imposed during the war. Anyone who has ever sipped a Coke knows that its makers don’t skimp on the sugar that goes into it.
“World War I created tremendous pressure on the company,” Mooney said. “Many felt it was the end of the business. So the owner (Asa Candler) decided to sell in 1919 to a group headed by Ernest Woodruff of Trust Company Bank of Atlanta for $25 million.”
And here’s an interesting fact: That was the largest single financial transaction ever made in the South up until that time, according to Mooney.
It was a period of transition for the company. In 1923, Woodruff brought in his son, Robert, to run the business. Robert prior to that had been running the White Motor Co. in Cleveland manufacturing cars and trucks.
“Ernest wanted someone he could trust, and for the next 60 years Robert led the company,” Mooney said. “He didn’t always have the title of president or chairman during that time, but I can assure you there was not one major decision made during those 60 years that did not have his imprint and approval on it.”
It was Woodruff who pushed and prodded the company into its status as an international corporate giant.
“His vision of Coca-Cola was one as an international company,” Mooney said. “But his board wanted it to focus on the U.S. So he was in constant battles with them.”
Woodruff formed a subsidiary company in 1926 to begin selling Coke overseas and by 1930 it was available in 30 countries. Most of them were in Europe, although the drink was available in parts of China and Indonesia as early as 1927.
Another key step came in 1928 when Woodruff brought Coke to the Amsterdam Olympic Games. Coke is now the Games’ most senior sponsor.
“He thought if he could just expose the drink to people, they’d want it,” Mooney said.
The company embarked on many innovations during his tenure, such as the six-bottle carton in 1923.
“He thought that if you can get the consumer to buy six bottles at a time instead of one, that’s going to be very successful,” he said.
In the late 1920s he introduced the first standardized coolers, meaning that you could take the product to where people are.
“It was the precursor to the vending machines that you see on every corner these days,” he said.
Woodruff also was responsible for many of the company’s classic advertising campaigns, such as “The Pause that Refreshes” and “Things Go Better with Coke.”
He also hired an artist whose depictions of Santa pausing for a Coke “have become the vision that many people think of when they think of Santa Claus today,” Mooney said.
Woodruff was a big believer in quality control so that a Coke would taste the same everywhere it is manufactured, Mooney said.
Bill Kinney is associate editor of The Marietta Daily Journal.