The greatest brand competition in history, the one between Coca-Cola and Pepsi, began in the 1930s and has played a role in American politics along with world consumerism.
The rivalry between the two truly escalated with the onset of World War II, when the brilliant, hard-driving Coca-Cola President Robert W. Woodruff ordered a special group of 148 Coca-Cola employees in the U.S. military to deliver Cokes to every G.I. “for five cents, wherever he is, and whatever it costs the company.” More than 5 billion servings of Coke would be distributed to wartime U.S. troops.
It was perhaps inevitable that the two major cola brands would find themselves sometimes intertwined with two sides of politics.
Eben Shapiro wrote in The New York Times of Nov. 1, 1992: "According to beverage industry lore, the Coca-Cola Company prospers under Democratic administrations, while PepsiCo thrives under the GOP." Kurt Eichenwald noted in the July 16, 1985, edition, "As with political parties, there are only two major players: Coca-Cola, the drink of Democrats, and Pepsi-Cola, the Republicans’ refresher. Sure there are third-party colas, but as in politics not much is said about them."
Here are 14 images that shaped Coke and Pepsi's ad war and proved they have a place in politics.
1. Woodruff and Farley Take Coke Global
Coca-Cola President Robert Woodruff (above left, in 1944) executed a master stroke in 1941 when he hired as chairman of the board of the Coca-Cola Export Corporation James A. Farley (above right, in 1945), the organizational genius of the Democratic Party who had piloted Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s first two successful presidential election campaigns. Farley, a roving ambassador of goodwill, was the man to make Coke a global brand.
At the first opportunity, Farley spent three months touring the world, conferring as much with heads of state as he did with the world community of Coca-Cola bottlers. His prominent layman Catholic background came in handy when visiting Latin America, as well as the time he led four Coca-Cola executives to meet the Pope — supposedly prompting Communists to half-jokingly remark that there was a conspiracy afoot to replace sacramental wine with Coke.
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2. Coca-Cola Goes to War
During World War II, Coca-Cola convinced the Roosevelt administration that Coke was vital to the war effort, and in 1942 it secured from the War Production Board an exclusive exemption from sugar rationing for Coke served to the military. Gen. George Marshall gave all area commanders the authority to set up soft drink bottling operations and request personnel to operate them. Moreover, Coke’s civilian military “technical observers” assembled and ran bottling plants near the battlefields. Entire Coke bottling plants were transported at the expense of the U.S. government.
At the outbreak of WWII, Coca-Cola had bottling plants in 44 countries on both sides of the conflict. According to authors William H. and Nancy K. Young, by the end of the war there were 108, which helped Coke dominate the postwar world market, much to the consternation of the Pepsi-Cola Company.
3. Pepsi Takes on the War — and Coca-Cola
Complaints of Coca-Cola’s favored wartime position were made by Pepsi-Cola’s president, Walter Mack, but they were ignored. So Mack had the Pepsi-Cola Company buy a Cuban sugar plantation (which was later lost and nationalized when Castro took over Cuba), then built three large Pepsi-Cola Servicemen’s Centers in Washington D.C., San Francisco, and New York’s Times Square. These facilities dispensed free Pepsi along with providing free shaves, free showers, and other services.
Ironically, FDR’s son James secured a Pepsi franchise before the end of WWII, introducing Pepsi President Walter Mack to his father at the White House.
Mack would later hire former Coca-Cola executive Alfred Steele in 1949 (he became CEO and Chairman in 1955), under whose management sales tripled during the period 1955-1957. By 1956, there were 149 Pepsi-Cola bottling plants operating in 61 countries outside the U.S.
4. Eisenhower: Hunting and Golfing with Coke and Pepsi
William Robinson, center, chairman of the board of Coca-Cola, joined President Dwight D. Eisenhower, left, and W. Alton Jones at the Turnberry golf course in Scotland on Sept. 5, 1959.
During World War II, then-Gen. Eisenhower first ordered Cokes dispensed to the G.I.'s, as he deemed soft drinks less troublesome than wine or beer for his North African soldiers. Moreover, Eisenhower requisitioned 10 Coke bottling plants for the overseas troops.
After the war, Eisenhower and Coca-Cola President Woodruff became friends. Woodruff, ostensibly a Southern Democrat, backed Eisenhower's Republican presidential candidacy. However, Woodruff disliked Vice President Richard Nixon.
Pepsi President Walter Mack was a Republican fundraiser for the presidential campaigns of Eisenhower, as well as those of Wendell Willkie and Thomas E. Dewey. In 1964 Mack also raised money for Democrat Lyndon B. Johnson’s campaign. (Pepsi CEO Donald Kendall was a friend of Richard Nixon and later became a trustee of the George H.W. Bush Foundation.)
From 1886 until the late 1950s, Coke was priced at 5 cents a bottle, and all of its vending machines accepted only single nickels. When inflation struck, the company, not wanting to raise the price to a dime, asked Eisenhower to create a 7.5 cent coin. Eisenhower, a hunting and golfing buddy of Coca-Cola executives, refused to do so and Coca-Cola was forced to develop a multi-coin machine.
5. The (Almost) Kennedy Coca-Cola Empire
Coca-Cola’s Woodruff was said to be a personal friend of Kennedy family patriarch Joseph P. Kennedy, seen in this 1938 photo. Mark Pendergrast, author of the book, “For God, Country, and Coca-Cola,” writes that in the early 1940s Joe Kennedy negotiated with Woodruff about spending $5 million on Coke bottling plants: "'He has a number of sons,' explained Archie Lee [creative director for the Coca-Cola account at the D'Arcy Advertising Agency]. The elder Kennedy wanted to lay the ‘foundation for jobs for them.’ The deal fell through, however, and the boys had to go into politics instead.”
6. 'Tail Gunner Joe' Becomes 'The Pepsi-Cola Kid'
Marine Lt. Joseph Raymond McCarthy, the future Communist subversive hunter, was a World War II intelligence officer stationed in the Solomon Islands who exaggerated his war record with claims of service as a tail gunner. Subsequently, as a senator from Wisconsin, he fought to reduce government regulation by ending wartime sugar rationing nearly six months ahead of schedule.
There was a problem, however. In his biography of the senator, author Richard Halworth Rovere writes of McCarthy acquaintance John Maragon, “a lobbyist for a lobbyist,” who worked for the Allied Molasses Company, a firm that violated U.S. rationing orders by somehow obtaining and refining 1.5 million gallons of sugar-cane syrup and selling it to the Pepsi-Cola Company. Maragon introduced McCarthy to Pepsi lobbyist and bottler Russell Arundel.
Author David M. Oshinsky (“A Conspiracy So Immense: The World of Joe McCarthy”) reveals that McCarthy was near personal bankruptcy and took out a loan. Arundel endorsed a note for $20,000 to be used as collateral against the senator’s loan. Other senators and the media picked up on this, replacing one derisive McCarthy moniker, “Tail Gunner Joe,” with another, “The Pepsi-Cola Kid.”
Actually, as author Arthur Herman argues in the book, “Joseph McCarthy: Reexamining the Life and Legacy of America’s Most Hated Senator,” McCarthy acted in the interest not of the soft drink companies but Wisconsin sugar beet growers, and the bottler, Russell Arundel, actually opposed sugar deregulation because he used rationing to pad his costs. "McCarthy’s dealings with Pepsi were perfectly legal and open," writes Herman.
Even more ironically, as Oshinsky notes, Wisconsin’s Appleton State Bank eventually rejected Arundel’s note, arguing that he had few liquid assets. McCarthy had to cover his debts by persuading his office manager to dip into his own savings account.
7. Doesn’t Pepsi Taste Better than Vodka, Mr. Khrushchev?
Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev samples a cup of Pepsi-Cola at the American National Exhibition in Moscow in 1959 while being intently watched by U.S. Vice President Richard Nixon. At left, Pepsi-Cola Chairman Donald M. Kendall also pours himself a cup.
In the 1960s, when PepsiCo decided to sell its 500 Park Avenue building in Manhattan and move its headquarters northward out of New York City, it was Richard Nixon who scouted out and selected the 112-acre Blind Brook Polo Club in Purchase, N.Y., as the location for an even larger 144-acre campus and sculpture garden designed by architect Edward Durrell Stone, announced February 1967. Announcer Don Masse, “the Voice of Polo in the East,” who earlier had been manager of the Palm Beach Polo Club and was now Blind Brook’s business manager, was approached by a member of the Gache family, who owned the club, and told to show Nixon the polo grounds. Afterward, Gache allegedly said, “Don, we have some good news and bad news. Good news — Nixon enjoyed the way you showed him the property. Bad news — He loves the place and Pepsi is going to put its headquarters here and you’re out of a job.”
8. Nixon Appoints Pepsi’s Kendall
In the photo above, PepsiCo CEO Donald M. Kendall of Greenwich, Conn., is named by President Nixon as chairman of the National Alliance of Businessmen on Feb. 21, 1969, at the White House in Washington. The alliance works with the government to provide jobs for the unemployed.
After his presidential defeat in 1960 and California defeat by Gov. Pat Brown in 1962, Nixon needed a lucrative job as an attorney that would afford him time for politics. Pepsi’s Don Kendall offered to let him handle the Pepsi account. Another friend, Warner-Lambert Pharmaceutical Corp. President Elmer Bobst, arranged a deal with his own law firm, Mudge, Stern, Baldwin and Todd, to hire Nixon as a full partner at $250,000 a year, with time off for politicking.
Later, in 1972, after Nixon had become president, PepsiCo wrangled an exclusive franchise to sell Pepsi to 200 million Russians. Additionally, Warner-Lambert’s application for a merger with Parke-Davis, originally turned down by the Justice Dept.’s antitrust division, was approved by former Nixon law partner Attorney General John Mitchell.
9. Nixon and Pepsi Pals, 1963
Pepsi-Cola President Donald M. Kendall, left, and Nixon went to see a football game at Yankee Stadium on Nov. 1, 1963.
On Nov. 20, Nixon arrived in Dallas, Texas to deliver a speech to Pepsi-Cola stockholders. The next day — three weeks after the above photo was taken — there was a Pepsi-Cola convention and board meeting in Dallas attended by Richard Nixon and Donald Kendall (both men were photographed and appeared on the front page of The Dallas Times Herald), along with actress Joan Crawford, wife of deceased Pepsi executive Alfred Steele, who was on the board of directors. The next day, Nixon flew from Dallas to New York, arriving shortly after President Kennedy was shot at Dallas’ Dealey Plaza.
10. First Coke in China, 1979
During the Democratic Carter administration, the first shipment of Coca-Cola to China was loaded in Hong Kong, Tuesday, Jan. 23, 1979, and appeared in major Chinese cities for that weekend's Chinese New Year celebrations. The 280,000 bottles and cans are shown being transferred from trucks to a China-bound train that was to leave early the next day. In China, the American soft drink is known as "Tastes Good, Tastes Happy."
11. George H.W. Bush Toasts Pepsi’s First China Plant, 1985
U.S. Vice President George Bush toasts in Pepsi-Cola with He Yao, chairman of the first Pepsi plant in China, on Oct. 18, 1985, while touring the factory in the Shenzhen Special Economic Zone.
12. The Clintons Toast Coca-Cola in Russia, 1995
In the top image, President Bill Clinton and Hillary Rodham Clinton drink Coca-Cola at Moscow's Coca-Cola refreshments plant, on May 11, 1995. The sign in the background reads “Coca-Cola” in Russian.
In the bottom photo, a toast is made by the Clintons and the head of the Coca-Cola Company's business in Russia, Michael O'Neil, as they hold Coca-Cola bottles at the plant.
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13. Bush & Cheney at the Pepsi 400 NASCAR Race
In the top photo, then-Republican presidential candidate Texas Gov. George W. Bush poses with Pepsi-Cola spokesmodel Hallie Eisenberg before the start of the Pepsi 400 NASCAR race on July 1, 2000, at the Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Fla. Bush served as grand marshall for the race.
In the lower photo, U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney, center, addresses the audience during his visit to the Pepsi 400 auto race in Daytona Beach on July 1, 2006.
14. Putin Praises Pepsi
Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, hands over an Order of Friendship to PepsiCo co-founder Donald Kendall on June 21, 2004. The award went to Kendall for his great contribution to relations between the peoples in Russia and the United States, Putin said. Kendall, an old friend of Richard Nixon, was chairman of PepsiCo in 1972 when the company negotiated for its main soft drink, Pepsi-Cola, to be the first foreign consumer product sold in the Soviet Union.
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