Coca-Cola Floating Wrong Pemberton?

Collector challenges image of soft-drink inventor

Doc Pemberton?

ATLANTA -- Doc Pemberton, the 19th-century pharmacist who invented Coca-Cola by mixing naturally caffeinated kola nuts with coca leaves, which naturally contain cocaine, is selling Coca-Cola again, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal.

Coke won't comment on whether its original soft drink ever contained cocaine. Until lately, it hasn't had much to say about Doc Pemberton either. Now, though, it's leaning on his legend to put some fizz back into its flagging U.S. cola sales, according to the report.

Doc Pemberton--whose real name was John Stith Pemberton--is regularly featured on an electronic billboard for all to see as they enter downtown Atlanta. His likeness often greets visitors to the company's website and Facebook page. Pictures are posted online of him wrestling with an alligator and walking on the moon. He has more than 100,000 followers on Twitter.

Doc makes an irreverent new pitchman compared to Coke's traditional mainstays--polar bears and Santa--conjuring up a mysterious time in Coke's past, which is perhaps what the global marketer needs right now, WSJ said.

But here's a mystery the company hadn't anticipated: What did Doc Pemberton look like, and is Coke's image of a handsome, robustly bearded Doc the real thing?

A well driller in Maine is betting it isn't. He recently plunked down $17,825 at an auction to buy an 1888 photograph the auction house claimed to be the only original of Doc. It depicts a slight man who is balding and has only a wisp of a beard--and therefore looks decidedly different from Coke's fellow, with a thick beard and a full head of hair.

The photo's previous owner alleges that Coke's version of Doc is actually another Pemberton: John Clifford Pemberton, an unpopular Confederate general, according to the report.

Click here to read the complete Wall Street Journal report.