What do Johnson & Johnson and the Coca-Cola Company have in common? For starters, they were both founded in 1886. But there’s also something else you might not know: for a short while, in the late 1800s, Johnson & Johnson made a cola drink.
In an earlier post, I mentioned some of the lesser-known and more unusual products made by Johnson & Johnson in its earliest days. One of my favorites is Vino Kolafra, which was a tonic preparation made from cola nut extract in a sherry wine base. It was made by a small subsidiary, the Brunswick Pharmacal Company from 1894 to 1896. Here’s a Vino Kolafra ad from the November, 1896 issue of, oddly enough, Popular Science Magazine.
Ad for Vino Kolafra in Popular Science, 1896
Ads and pamphlets of the time referred to Vino Kolafra as “a Remarkable Tonic.” And it certainly must have been, judging from its recommended uses. According to the ads and pamphlets, Vino Kolafra was recommended for athletes, bicyclists (cycling was a popular hobby back then, too), for the weak and overworked, for people convalescing from an illness, for those with weak hearts, as a brain stimulant and nerve tonic, for hay fever, to ward off fatigue and relieve nervous strain, as a cure for drunkenness (especially remarkable, considering the sherry base!), as a reliever of melancholia and nervous depression, to give troops stamina on forced marches, and more. And if that wasn’t enough, it also was said to help sufferers from indigestion, asthma, fevers, sea sickness, migraines, and the flu….and it was an aphrodisiac.
Here’s a great photograph of two bicyclists drinking Vino Kolafra…from glasses they brought with them on their ride!
Vino Kolafra wasn’t the only cola product we made. The Company also sold Koloid Tablets, Essence of Carikola (which combined cola nut extract with extract from the carica papaya, a digestive aid) and Carikola Tablets. All of the cola products were marked with a distinctive red pyramid on the label.
Cola Products Range, 1890s
In addition, the Company made Sparkling Kolafra, which was a carbonated drink made from cola nut extract added to sparkling water. It was advertised as being superior to ginger ale, plain soda and root beer. An 1897 advertising book for Sparkling Kolafra recommended it for:
Bicyclists, during long runs Mountain Climbers, after reaching the top Ministers, after long sermons Doctors, after collecting bills Editors, during excessive mental labor Base-ball enthusiasts, during the game Dancers, after two-hours waltzing [1897 Advertising Book, A Tropical Tonic]
The success of Coca-Cola® and other, less reputable tonics, had fueled interest in tonic preparations in the late 19th century. The Company responded by investigating the properties of kola nut extract (as they spelled it then) and coming up with products.
Vino Kolafra was discontinued when it was discovered that workers in the plant were also investigating its properties: they were sampling the sherry base in increasing quantities.