The Pope on Coke

Did that headline catch your attention? Well, it was a lie. I’m sorry… I just have a problem. There were actually two popes who loved to play with snow.

Yes, two leaders of the Catholic church, Leo XIII, and Pope Saint Pius X, took a few breaks from being wholesome(-ish) religious figures, to entertaining the Coca plant. Yet, they weren’t the only ones enjoying the illicit substance. Figures such as Thomas Edison, Ulysses S. Grant (not a super surprising one there), Queen Victoria, Alexander Dumas and Jules Verne had also partaken in a bit of powder. Indeed, more celebrities than I could ever find nicknames for the drug were public endorsers of cocaine.

How?

Vin. Mariani.

It’s well known that Coca-Cola was a huge product that rode the wings of cocaine. However, it was far from the first, and decades before Coca-Cola’s success, there was Vin Mariani.

The spiked wine, which was billed as, of all things, a health tonic was said to be able to “reduce your hunger, aid digestion, cure the flu, and best of all, fill you with energy. Well… one of those was definitely true, to say the least.

However, this was long before the days of Pablo Escobar, and who wouldn’t have dabbled in a bit of the Co-co with those benefits? Men like Edison praised the drink for helping him to stay up and finish his work, and the aforementioned Pope Leo XIII even gave a Vatican gold medal to its creator, Angelo Mariani.

Now getting the pope to award you for your cocaine is a hilariously huge deal, as well as a hugely hilarious one. However, it was far from Angelo’s only huge success. While cocaine has sold fairly well since it’s discovery, Mariani was a genius not just in unbanned drug experimentation. Mariani was a master of the celebrity endorsement.

After the drugged drink took Paris by storm, Angelo made sure to get the record of anyone notable who praised his drink in his ads. Actors, artists, aristocrats, and other high society persons whose identities began with “A” came flocking to praise his drinks, and through his shrewd, driven marketing the drink grew to international acclaim years before Coca-Cola.

To his fans, Angelo may as well have bottled up the fountain of youth and brought it to them, and when the Papacy, the Queen of England and the President of the United States endorse your product, your business is in an extremely good position. Mariani himself became the first millionaire to create a product using cocaine products (which isn’t so surprising considering that it’s a ridiculously addictive drug).

Unfortunately (or perhaps, fortunately), Vin Mariani did not stand long. Eventually, people noticed that cocaine wasn’t the best thing to be putting in your body, and large-scale drug and alcohol regulations slowly faded the drink out of existence. Due to the shrinking legal marketplace, eventually Vin Mariani was no more, and though Coca-Cola was able to pivot its product, it’s wine-based grandfather ultimately folded.

This was not the first example of people using illicit materials in their wines and products and is likely not their last. The Romans famously used lead powders to sweeten their booze, and I wrote about that here if you’d like to check it out. Yet, with the history behind us now, it is a fun story to look back on, and one that I definitely thought was worth sharing. 

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