On trial in 1911 for being “deleterious and injurious” to its imbibers, Coca-Cola had to contend with accusations by temperance advocates that eight cokes contained “enough caffeine to kill” a man (when in fact, caffeine had merely caused a few poor frogs to die in testing). The trial, just a few years after the US established its first food and drug law (the 1906 Pure Food and Drugs Act), contains the DNA of almost all our contemporary arguments about what’s good for us, how to determine this, and who should regulate it when (and if) we do.
From the advent of the famous double-blind testing technique that would become industry standard for pharmaceuticals to the ambiguity of the court’s ruling, the century-old case will feel familiar to any reader of today’s business news. The sharp and historically aware writer Sarah Laskow does a swift but rangy job detailing the scene at Lapham’s Quarterly. The issue’s topic? Intoxication.