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In 1911, Coca Cola went on trial for being a killer brain tonic

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In March 1911, a federal lawsuit against Coca Cola (The United States Government vs. Forty Barrels, Twenty Kegs Coca-Cola,) began in Chattanooga. How come? The US government alleged that Coke's added caffeine was a deadly poison.

Nowadays Coca Cola is demonized for causing obesity and dissolving your incisors, but in the early 1900s the US government accused the soft drink of poisoning consumers. Here's an excerpt from Ludy T. Benjamin Jr.'s fascinating article from November's issue of The Psychologist:

On the evening of 20 October 1909, agents of the United States government waited in the darkness in a stakeout on the Tennessee state line. They were watching for a truck coming from Atlanta, Georgia. When the truck crossed the border, the agents intercepted it and seized its cargo – 40 barrels and 20 kegs of Coca-Cola syrup. The seizure was made under the auspices of the recently passed Pure Food and Drug Act by which the US government charged the Coca-Cola Company with marketing and selling a beverage that was injurious to health because it contained a deleterious ingredient. Most readers hearing this part of the story would assume that the harmful ingredient was cocaine, a popular myth about the contents of Coca-Cola early in its history (a trace of cocaine existed in the 1890s because of the manufacturing process but was eliminated by 1898). However, it wasn't cocaine. It was caffeine. The government administrator who authorised the seizure could be described as a zealot, intent on ending the sale of Coca-Cola or at least ridding the beverage of its caffeine. [...]

The impetus behind the lawsuit was Harvey Washington Wiley, head of the Bureau of Chemistry of the US Department of Agriculture. Wiley had long been a vocal opponent of caffeine and was especially critical of its role in the popular beverage [...] Wiley had testified before Congress that caffeine was a poison and a habit-forming drug. He was not fond of coffee or tea but was less critical of those drinks because the caffeine was an indigenous ingredient. But he opposed the sale of Coca-Cola on two grounds: the caffeine was an added ingredient, and the beverage was marketed to children.


The lawsuit never went anywhere thanks to some legal wrangling on behalf of Coke's attorneys, but it's intriguing that at one point the US government took the most ubiquitous sugar water on the planet to court for killing people.

[Spotted on Mind Hacks]