Friday, July 10, 2009
The Pope's Cocaine
My post on Maltine led me to some research on beverages containing cocaine. That in turn led me to a French chemist, originally from the island of Corsica. His name was Angelo Mariani (1838-1914). His particular contribution to humankind was inventing a product called coca wine. Importing tons of coca leaves from Latin America to France, Mariani soaked them in Bordeaux wine. Ethanol in the wine acted as a solvent and extracted the cocaine from the leaves, which then laced the beverage.
In 1863, at the age of 25, Angelo -- reputedly the young man shown here -- began marketing this cocaine-riddled tonic. He called it, “Vin Mariani.” Its green bottles originally contained 6 mgs. of cocaine per fluid ounce of red wine. When after many years he began exporting Vin Mariani to the United States, stronger cocaine tonics were already on the American market, so he boosted the cocaine content to 7.2 mgs.
Colorfully advertised, almost from the beginning Vin Mariani was hugely popular in Europe and America. The French writer Emil Zola bubbled over in praise, calling it: The Elixir of Life...a veritable scientific fountain of youth, which in giving vigor, health and energy would create an entirely new and superior race.” Other notables who were reported to be regular imbibers of Vin Mariani were Queen Victoria of Britain and U.S. President William McKinley. Thomas Edison endorsed the wine, saying that it allowed him to stay awake (inventing?) for longer hours.
But the most famous customer was Pope Leo XIII who is said to have carried a flask of the stuff around with him to bolster his spirits in times of need. So grateful was the Pope that he awarded a Vatican gold medal to Angelo. A hustling entrepreneur as well as inventor, Mariani saw the benefits of celebrity endorsements and frequently featured the gold medal and the Catholic pontiff in his advertising. It can be asserted without contradiction, however, that he did not seek the Pope’s blessing for a 1896 advertisement featuring a Titianesque beauty.
Meanwhile, in the United States, alarm was growing about the use of cocaine-laced beverages. Doctors and hospitals began warning about serious cases of addiction. In 1914 the Congress passed the Harrison Act that outlawed cocaine and heron in over-the-counter products. Dr. Harvey D. Wiley, first director of the forerunner of the FDA, wrote that more than a hundred wines, bearing different names, had been used for the administration of cocaine. He singled out Vin Mariani as the most widely used of these preparations. The injury caused by it and other coca tonics, Wiley asserted, “cannot be overestimated.”
As this saga was unfolding, John Pemberton of Atlanta was merchandising what he called Pemberton’s French Wine Coca. When Atlanta went dry, he responded by developing a non-alcoholic version and eventually called it Coca Cola. He later removed cocaine as an ingredient, but the name remained. For that reason some have called Angelo Mariani “the grandfather” of Coca Cola. I would agree.