On this page you’ll find some photos, letters, and links I used to make A Secret History of Coffee, Coca & Cola. Unless noted, illustrations and photos are my own.   —Ricardo Cortés, author & illustrator

You can also reference the bibliography of the book here.

Seeds of the Book

Coffee (left) and coca (right).

Both are natural stimulants, sometimes picked on the very same mountain. Both are global economic forces, one licit and the other profoundly illegal.


Pemberton’s Wine Coca

Speaking of coca, did you know Coca-Cola came from Dr. John Pemberton’s “French Wine Coca”? He dropped wine from the original formula and added caffeine from the kola nut; it would become the world’s most famous beverage.

LEFT: illustration based on photo by Early Coke / RIGHT: Atlanta Journal, 1886


Treasure Trove 1: The National Archives

A bulk of my research came from two archives.

The first was The US National Archives at College Park, MD. I spent days there, photographing documents from boxes of declassified correspondence of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs (FBN).


Treasure Trove 2: Harry J. Anslinger

A second key source was the H. J. Anslinger Papers collection of Pennsylvania State University, PA.

Harry Anslinger was the long-time commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics. Best known for his fervent campaign against marijuana, Anslinger was also an important character in the history of Coca-Cola.


The Friendship

By combining letters of the Anslinger Papers with those of the National Archives, a relationship emerged between Harry Anslinger and The Coca-Cola Company Vice President Ralph Hayes.


Benefits of Friendship

Although Anslinger lasted through the administrations of seven U.S. presidents, his tenure did face obstacles. At right, Hayes consults James Farley (Chairman of the Coca-Cola Export Corporation; previously head of the Democratic National Committee) to support Anslinger’s incumbency. The letter to Senator Walter George (Democrat) that Hayes refers to is illustrated in my book.


Favors Go Both Ways

Of course, Hayes’s kindness to Anslinger engendered a return. Most significantly, Anslinger’s Washington resources were directed to Maywood Chemical Works, the company that imported coca leaf for Coca-Cola’s secret recipe.


The Illustrations

On this page, I’ve shared original documents referenced in the creation of A Secret History of Coffee, Coca & Cola. However, the book is illustrated, and to create the narrative I drew the documents in ink and color pencil to create the narrative of the story.



The Single Convention

The grand result of the threesome between the Bureau of Narcotics, The Coca-Cola Company, and Maywood was their collaboration in drafting the 1961 Single Convention of Narcotic Drugs—the treaty that orders the prohibition of coca today.

The Single Convention contains a unique provision allowing Coca-Cola special access to the otherwise illegal plant.

For more information, see:

A Double Standard for the Single Convention Treaty


I Ask the Doctor

The Coca-Cola Company runs several twitter accounts; one is a tongue-in-cheek @docpemberton representing the creator of “Pemberton’s Wine Coca,” the inventor of Coca-Cola, Dr. John Pemberton.

I asked Doc about the Single Convention. After some flirting, Coca-Cola went hush.



Interestingly, the background image for the @docpemberton account was the first image at right: an old Coca-Cola ad with text blacked out.

Far right: the original ad, uncensored, where it’s possible to read the hidden words (red): This “INTELLECTUAL BEVERAGE” and TEMPERANCE DRINK contains the valuable TONIC and NERVE STIM-ULANT properties of the Coca plant and Cola (or Kola) nuts…

UPDATE: After I posted this screenshot, Coca-Cola switched the background image to something much more bland.


A Familiar Obfuscation

I’m certainly not the first to approach The Coca-Cola Company with questions about its history of coca use. In my research, I discovered a fascinating thread of correspondence pertaining to Victor Wolfgang von Hagen, an American explorer known for his travels throughout South America in the 1940s...

Asking Coca-Cola About Coca Has Never Been Easy



If you’d like to read even more about this subject, I’ve written an illustrated essay...

The Cocainemaker, Reefer Madness, and the Vice-President of The Coca-Cola Company

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