The French coke millionaire
Angelo Mariani, was born Ange-François Mariani on December 17th, 1838, within a wealthy family of doctors and pharmacists in Corsica. There is little known about his early years, before he ultimately became widely known as the inventor of the Vin Tonique Mariani, ancestor of the Coca-Cola! But in 1859, he moved to Paris to work as a chemist. That’s when Mariani became intrigued with Paolo Mantegazza’s studies of the coca plant and its leaves. Albert Niemann’s naming and isolation of cocaine fascinated him.
A couple of years later, in 1862, the aphid phylloxera arrived in
France. The small parasitic insect travelled on American rootstock
imported via steamship and first set foot in Europe in the Rhône valley
vineyards. It took less than one season for phylloxera to inundate the
valley and cross into the next and the next and the next. In less than a
decade, the French grape harvests were decimated and the wine production
French drinking customs tilted toward spirits because of this tragedy. Rincettes, sherry cobblers, absinthe, and a miraculous tonic replaced the grape. That’s when Angelo took his fascination for coca into his bottled creation and changed the drinking habits of the entire world both directly and indirectly.
In 1863, at the youthful age of 25, Mariani marketed a patent medicine called Vin Tonique Mariani à la Coca de Perou. Based on Bordeaux wine infused with three varietals of coca leaves in the bottle, le Vin Tonique Mariani was immediately applauded as a an ideal stomach stimulant, an analgesic on the air passages and vocal chords, appetite suppressant, anti-depressant, and treatment against anemia. Two or three claret-glassfuls daily to be taken 30 minutes before or immediately after a meal were the recommended dose. Each fluid ounce contained 6 milligrams of the active ingredient, cocaine.
Mariani did not stop with a simple success. From his laboratory in
Neuilly-sur-Seine, he also developed Elixir Mariani, a spirits-based version
with three times the active ingredient. Next, he made Pate Mariani and
Pastilles Mariani, intended to strengthen the vocal chords. Gargles, sprays,
and a tea infusion were next. But none of them received half the attention
of Vin Tonique Mariani.
Kings and queens, popes and presidents, scientists and inventors, writers and dancers loved Vin Tonique Mariani. Leon XIII, Pie X, La Reine du Portugal, Le Roi d’Espagne, Le Prince de Bulgarie, La Reine de Roumanie, Le Roi du Cambodge, le Président des Etats-Unis Mc Kinley, L’ambassadeur de l’Empereur de Chine, Raymond Poincaré, Anatole France, Felix Faure, Maurice Bertheaux, Thomas Edison, Alexandre Dumas, Sarah Bernhardt, Jules Verne, HG Wells, Emile Zola, Loïe Fuller, Auguste et Louis Lumière, Edmond Rostand, Louise Michel, Auguste Rodin, Louis Blériot, Georges Feydeau, Jules Renard, Puvis de Chavanne, Georges Courteline, Octave Mirbeau, Eugene Grasset, Henri Martin, Henrik Ibsen, Le préfet Poubelle, René Bazin, Jules Simon, Leon Bloy, Mucha, Odilon Redon, Cécile Sorel, Emile Loubet… Testimonies filled 15 leather-bound published volumes.
Success always incites competition. Copycat products were born: Coca des
Incas and Vin des Incas.
In 1884, pharmacist John S Pemberton launched Pemberton’s French Coca Wine in Atlanta, Georgia. Another overnight success would have been in the making, if it hadn’t contained wine. The Klu Klux Klan forcefully lobbied for prohibition in Atlanta. The law was enacted in 1885. Pemberton was pressed to reformulate his product, replacing wine with cola extract and soda. Coca-Cola was born.
The high cocaine content of Pemberton’s product as well as other American
competitors forced Mariani to increase his dosage to 7.2 mg per ounce for US
export. Mariani opened an office at 52 West 15th Street in New York to protect
his interests. He also opened offices in London and Montréal.
The century turned and became apparent to many in Europe and the US, that cocaine addiction was a very real, very serious hazard. Coca-Cola was forced to denature its coca extract in 1904. Two years later, the Pure Food and Drug Act forced Mariani to claim there was no cocaine, only coca leaves in his product. The curtain closed on American sales of Vin Tonique Mariani with the passage of the 1914 Harrison Act that further controlled the sale of any product containing coca leaves or cocaine.
It made little difference to Angelo Mariani. By 1910, there was no cocaine in his tonic. But in 1914, 3 months before the outbreak of the First World War, the chemist died, taking the secret of his marvelous wine with him. He’s buried at the Cemetary of the Père Lachaise, in Paris.
3 links to go further
In 1863, after having read a paper by Paolo Mantegazza (the man who first isolated cocaine from coca leaves), and seeing the economic potential, Angelo Mariani, a corsican chemist, set to work creating a “tonic” of his own.
The third of the 15 leather bounds volume published by Mariani, containing praises and endorsments by celebrities from around the world. In this volume, amongst others, Thomas Edison, Auguste Rodin, Emile Zola...
A selection of advertisments for the Vin Mariani, in different languages.