Coca-Cola in WW2


© History Oasis
"Every man in uniform gets a bottle of Coca-Cola for five cents, wherever he is and whatever it costs the company"

—Robert Woodroof, former President of the Coca-Cola Company

As the Second World War unfolded, the world was engulfed in chaos and uncertainty.

Amidst this turbulence, Coca-Cola emerged as a symbol of American values and became an essential morale booster for millions of soldiers on the frontlines.

From President Franklin D. Roosevelt's personal involvement to the development of Fanta in Germany— the history of Coca-Cola during WW2 is a curious mix of geopolitics, diplomacy, and innovation.


portrait of FDR
© History Oasis

In the hallowed annals of American history, few figures stand as tall as President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

A leader of profound vision, he managed to guide the nation through the punishing trials of the Great Depression and the horrors of World War II, leaving an indelible mark on the country's fabric.

Yet, amid the sweeping reforms and pivotal decisions, one might overlook an edict that, while perhaps not consequential in the grand scheme of geopolitical turmoil—had a lasting impact on the culture of the American military and, indeed, the world.

This was the presidential decree that placed a frothy, caramel-colored drink at the heart of the American war effort: Coca-Cola.

The Fizz That Fueled The Front Lines

As the clouds of war darkened the globe, the home front became an equally crucial battleground, where morale and spirit were as vital as bullets and battleships.

Soldiers yearned for a taste of normalcy, a respite from the chaos of war.

Recognizing the power of a simple American icon—a bottle of Coca-Cola—to evoke home and hearth in the harshest of circumstances, FDR made an unprecedented move. He decreed that Coca-Cola should be made available to all American soldiers, regardless of their location.

It was a decision that went beyond the simple mechanics of logistics and supplies. It was, in essence, an endorsement of the belief that maintaining the soldiers' link to home was as vital to the war effort as the weapons they wielded.

The Global March Of The Coca-Cola Bottle

With the president's backing, Coca-Cola found itself thrust onto a global stage.

It wasn't just about quenching thirst anymore; it was about delivering a slice of America to the farthest flung outposts of war.

The company embarked on an ambitious mission, establishing bottling plants across the globe, from the jungles of the Pacific to the sands of North Africa.

The logistical challenges were immense.

Ingredients had to be sourced and transported, factories had to be built, workers had to be trained, and a distribution network had to be created.

Yet, propelled by the presidential edict, Coca-Cola overcame these obstacles—and the iconic green bottle became a familiar sight even in the most remote military camps.


The Coca-Cola Company faced a significant hurdle during the war: sugar rationing.

As the American government tightened its belt to support the war effort, it became increasingly difficult for the company to access this key ingredient.

However, with special permission from the US government, Coca-Cola was allowed to import sugar from Cuba and other countries to meet the insatiable demand of soldiers and civilians alike.

This unique privilege speaks volumes about the cultural importance of the beverage during these tumultuous times.


The Coca-Cola Colonels
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Perhaps one of the most intriguing chapters in the Coca-Cola wartime saga involves the remarkable role played by a cadre of company employees.

Affectionately and informally dubbed the "Coca-Cola Colonels," these 148 Technical Observers were not military strategists or combat specialists, but they were embarking on a mission as unprecedented as it was crucial.

Their task was monumental: to ensure that the beloved caramel concoction reached the parched lips of American soldiers, regardless of where duty called them.

The Frontline Factories

The call of the Coca-Cola Colonels was as unorthodox as it was challenging. They were dispatched to the far corners of the globe, to places where the rumble of combat was a daily chorus.

Their mission: to erect bottling plants, often in the very shadows of the front lines.

These weren't the typical bottling plants one might picture, humming along in the heart of American cities.

These were portable installations, capable of being packed, moved, and reassembled with speed.

The Coca-Cola Colonels had to be as adaptable as the plants they were building, often dealing with the harsh realities of war—scarcity of resources, threat of enemy fire, the constant flux of the frontlines.

Yet, they persevered, driven by the conviction that their task was an essential part of the war effort.

The Logistics Of Liquid Morale

Keeping the Coca-Cola flowing was no small feat.

The bottling process involved a complex supply chain, and the ingredients had to be sourced and transported across vast distances, often through hostile territories.

There were technical challenges, too, from maintaining the quality and consistency of the product to ensuring that the bottles reached the soldiers cold, just as they would have enjoyed them back home.

The Coca-Cola Colonels were instrumental in managing these logistical challenges. They coordinated the supply routes, solved technical problems, and navigated the bureaucratic maze of war logistics.

They were not just bottling a beverage—they were bottling a piece of home, a taste of normalcy in the midst of chaos.


coca-cola ww2
© History Oasis

It's one thing to consider the Coca-Cola phenomenon in the context of American soldiers, but the reach of this effervescent emblem of home extended far beyond the familiar confines of the American military.

A surprising testament to its pervasive influence unfolded in an unlikely setting: the austere and ominous landscape of the prisoner of war camps.

The German Pows And Their American Soda

Amidst the grim realities of captivity, the German prisoners held in American camps found an unexpected bright spot in their daily rations—Coca-Cola.

This wasn't a random addition to the prisoners' meals, nor was it a trivial gesture. It was a conscious decision, reflecting a deeper understanding of the symbolic power of the drink.

Offering Coca-Cola to the POWs was more than just an attempt to meet the basic needs of the prisoners—it was about humanizing the enemy, about showing empathy in a time when empathy was in short supply.

It was a testament to the inherent belief in the shared humanity that exists even amidst the horror of war.

The Exchange Of Captives & Cokes

The reach of Coca-Cola didn't stop at the barbed wire fences of the American POW camps.

The beverage found its way into the supplies exchanged during prisoner transfers. These exchanges, often fraught with tension and uncertainty, were marked by the unexpected presence of the familiar green bottles.

The sight of Coca-Cola amidst the provisions was a reminder that, even in the harshest circumstances, there could be a moment of respite, a sip of comfort, a taste of home.

It was a message of resilience delivered in a bottle, a message that said, even here, even now, there can be a moment of normalcy.


Fanta WW2 vintage ad
Source: The Coca-Cola Company

Amidst the chaos of World War II, an unexpected challenge emerged for Coca-Cola, one that would stretch the company's ingenuity to its limits.

The battleground was Germany, a country that had embraced the American beverage with fervor in the pre-war years.

But the war turned the tides, and trade embargoes strangled the flow of Coca-Cola syrup from America to its German subsidiary.

The beloved beverage was on the brink of extinction in the German market, but the team on the ground was not ready to raise the white flag.

A Beverage Under Siege

Faced with the syrup shortage, the German team had a choice: surrender to circumstances or find a way around the blockade.

Demonstrating the kind of resilience and ingenuity that often characterizes human behavior during adversity, they chose the latter.

The mission was clear: create a new drink that could be produced with locally available ingredients.

The team rolled up their sleeves and experimented with everything they could get their hands on—apple pomace, whey, and other remnants of food production.

The result was a new concoction, a fruity beverage that was unlike anything the company had ever produced. They christened their invention Fanta, a name derived from the German word for "fantasy."

A Wartime Phenomenon

As Fanta hit the shelves, it was an instant success.

The beverage was a refreshing alternative to the limited choices available in wartime Germany, and its popularity surged.

The drink quenched not just the German thirst, but soon spread across Europe, offering a unique flavor in the grim landscape of war.

The success of Fanta underscored a poignant truth about human resilience: even in the most challenging times, innovation and creativity can flourish.

The circumstances that birthed Fanta were far from ideal, yet the team managed to turn adversity into an opportunity, creating a product that has endured and thrived to this day.


Coca-Cola vintage ww2 ad
Source: The Coca-Cola Company

The tumult of World War II brought with it economic instability and inflation.

Prices of everyday items soared, and yet, against this backdrop, one American icon remained steadfast in its commitment to affordability—the Coca-Cola Company.

Despite the escalating costs of raw materials and the economic pressures of a world at war, the company made an audacious pledge: the price of a bottle of Coke would remain just 5 cents.

The Sweet Economics Of A Soda

The five-cent pledge was not just about economics; it was a strategic move, a statement of values.

It was an affirmation that the company was committed to its customers, to their ability to enjoy a piece of Americana without having to worry about the pinch in their pockets.

Yet, from a business perspective, it was a risky move.

The war had disrupted supply chains, causing the cost of ingredients to skyrocket. The company could have easily justified a price increase, but instead, it chose to absorb the additional costs. This decision underscored the company's understanding that Coca-Cola was more than just a beverage—it was a symbol of American normalcy, a piece of home, a bastion of comfort in a world turned upside down.

The Soda For Soldiers & Civilians Alike

The affordability of Coca-Cola was particularly significant for the soldiers on the front lines.

Earning meager wages and living in harsh conditions, they cherished the luxury of a cold, fizzy Coke. The five-cent price tag allowed them to enjoy this small pleasure without guilt or strain on their finances.

Back home, for the civilians grappling with war-time rationing and economic hardship, the affordability of Coke offered a similar comfort.

The familiar green bottle, still available for just a nickel, was a reassuring constant in a time of tumultuous change.


The Red Barrel Magazine
Source: The Coca-Cola Company

In the midst of the warfare, where days were filled with tension, uncertainty, and the grim realities of combat, an unexpected source of respite arrived in the form of a magazine.

But this wasn't just any publication, this was "The Red Barrel," the Coca-Cola Company's own magazine. The company, already playing a significant role in the lives of soldiers through its beverages, expanded its reach with this unique initiative.

The Mission Of The Red Barrel

"The Red Barrel" was more than just a collection of stories and articles.

It was a beacon of familiarity, a connection to the home they had left behind.

The magazine was tailored specifically for the Armed Services, a special edition dedicated to the men and women who were putting their lives on the line.

The content was a blend of news, stories, and illustrations designed to entertain, inform, and distract. It was a publication intended to provide a moment's relief from the harsh realities of war, a few minutes of escapism within the pages of a magazine.

The Impact Of Ink And Paper

The impact of "The Red Barrel" was multifold.

On the surface, it was a source of entertainment, a way to pass the time during the long hours of waiting that often characterized military service. But on a deeper level, it provided a sense of connection, a link to the world outside the battlefield.

The stories and illustrations allowed the soldiers to momentarily step away from their surroundings and lose themselves in a world of imagination.

The news kept them informed, bridging the gap between the frontlines and the home front. In essence, "The Red Barrel" served as a lifeline to normalcy in a world where nothing was normal.


portrait of Russian marshal with a clear coke bottle
© History Oasis

The surge of Coca-Cola's popularity during World War II was not limited to the American soldiers or even the Allied forces.

The fizzy beverage crossed enemy lines and found favor among the Axis forces too. Among these unlikely enthusiasts was none other than Soviet Marshal Georgy Zhukov, a man whose actions on the battlefield were as commanding as his taste for the American soda.

But there was a problem. In the Soviet Union, where anti-capitalist sentiment was deeply entrenched, being seen savoring an American product could be problematic, even for a high-ranking official like Zhukov.

The Marshal was in a quandary—his newfound penchant for Coca-Cola was at odds with his political image.

The Covert Coca-Cola Operation

But the Coca-Cola Company, with its global vision and adaptability, was no stranger to unusual requests.

Recognizing an opportunity, they decided to do the unthinkable: they would reinvent Coca-Cola for Marshal Zhukov.

Their solution?

A clear version of the drink, devoid of its characteristic caramel color, packaged in a straight-sided bottle rather than the distinctive 'hobble-skirt' design.

The result was a drink that looked more like vodka than the iconic American soda, allowing Zhukov to enjoy his favorite beverage incognito.

It was a masterstroke of corporate diplomacy, a solution that skirted the political sensitivities while catering to the consumer's preference.


© History Oasis

The Coca-Cola Company's efforts to establish bottling plants and distribution networks across Europe and Asia during the war had far-reaching consequences.

When the conflict finally ended, these facilities continued to operate, serving as the foundation for Coca-Cola's post-war expansion.

Thanks to the groundwork laid during World War II, the company quickly became a global powerhouse, with its fizzy beverage making its way into millions of homes and hearts across the world.

In the midst of the devastation and chaos of WW2, Coca-Cola emerged as an unexpected symbol of hope and perseverance.