Today in History

Today in History: May 8

Victory at Palo Alto

Zachary Taylor
Zachary Taylor,
Mathew B. Brady, photographer, 1849.
By Popular Demand: Portraits of the Presidents and First Ladies, 1789-Present

On May 8, 1846, General Zachary Taylor defeated a detachment of the Mexican army in a two-day battle at Palo Alto and Resaca de la Palma. This victory forced Mexican troops across the Rio Grande River to Matamoros, protecting the newly annexed state of Texas from invasion. Five days later, the United States declared war against Mexico. At the direction of President James K. Polk, General Taylor led American forces on to brilliant victories at Monterrey and Buena Vista.

UNION, Thomas W. Strong, engraver, 1848.
American Political Prints
Prints & Photographs Online Catalog

After a childhood on the Kentucky frontier, Taylor spent most of his adult life in the army. Widely admired for his military prowess, he was elected president on the 1848 Whig ticket. Taylor's administration was marred by improprieties on the part of cabinet members and controversies surrounding territory acquired by settlement of the Mexican-American War. He died before the Compromise of 1850 resolved these issues, having served just sixteen months in office.


We Ought To Serve A Little Something.
Any Coca-Cola 'Round Here?

"A Happy Family,"
American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1940

Soda jerk
What Flavor Shall I Make It?, circa 1900.
The Northern Great Plains, 1880-1920: Photographs from the Fred Hultstrand and F.A. Pazandak Photograph Collections

Dr. John S. Pemberton, a pharmacist and inventor of patent medicines, sold the first Coca-Cola on May 8, 1886, at Jacob's Pharmacy in Atlanta, Georgia. Pemberton's bookkeeper, Frank Robinson, coined the name and it is his handwriting we recognize as the Coca-Cola trademark. Originally marketed as a tonic, the drink contained extracts of coca leaf, which includes cocaine, as well as the caffeine-rich kola nut.

By the late 1890s, Coca-Cola was one of America's most popular fountain drinks. With another Atlanta pharmacist, Asa Griggs Candler, at the helm, The Coca-Cola Company's servings of the beverage increased from one million to one hundred million between 1890 and 1900. Advertising was an important factor in Pemberton and Candler's success, and by the turn of the century, the drink was sold across the United States and Canada. Around the same time, the company began selling syrup to independent bottling companies licensed to sell the drink. Even today, the U.S. soft-drink industry is organized on this principle.

Until the 1960s, both small town and big city dwellers enjoyed carbonated beverages at the local soda fountain or ice cream parlor. Often housed in the drug store, the soda fountain counter served as a meeting place for people of all ages. Often combined with lunch counters, the soda fountain declined in popularity as commercial ice cream, bottled soft drinks, and fast food restaurants came to the fore.

Soda Fountain
Soda Fountain (detail), circa 1900.
The South Texas Border, 1900-1920: Photographs from the Robert Runyon Collection
Click on the picture for a better view of the Coca-Cola advertising sign on the left.

Store or Cafe with Soft Drink Signs
Store or Cafe with Soft Drink Signs (detail),
Marion Post Wolcott, photographer, Natchez, Mississippi, August 1940.
America from the Great Depression to World War II: Color Photographs from the FSA-OWI, 1939-1945