Coca-Cola Series

For God, Country, and Coca-Cola by Mark Pendergrast, 1999, Excerpts

In order to thrive inside Nazi Germany, its Coca-Cola franchises had waged a rigorous campaign to disassociate themselves from their American roots. While the soft drink came to symbolize American freedom, the same Coca-Cola logo rested comfortably next to the swastika. The drama of German Coke’s survival before, during, and after World War II swirls around one central figure – Max Keith, at once the quintessential Coca-Cola man and Nazi collaborator.

The 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin marked a moment of triumph for Max Keith, who provided enormous quantities of Coca-Cola for athletes and visitors. As young men goose-stepped in formation at Hitler Youth rallies, Coca-Cola trucks accompanied the marchers, hoping to capture the next generation.

Goring and Goebbels hosted elaborate parties for foreign guests, most of whom were suitably impressed by what they saw. One of those guests was Robert Woodruff, who had brought over an entire Coca-Cola entourage. Woodruff belonged to network of corporate executives, many of whom were worried about their German subsidiaries and interests. With was clouds darkening, these titans of American industry quietly maneuvered to protect themselves against all contingencies. Some, like Henry Ford, were in fact Nazi sympathizers, while others, such as Walter Teagle of Standard Oil, avoided taking sides but saw nothing wrong with doing business with the Nazis. Like his friend and hunting companion Teagle, Woodruff practiced expediency. His politics were Coca-Cola, pure and simple.

In March of 1938, as Hitler’s troops stormed across the Austrian border. Far from expressing horror at Nazi aggression, Keith and his men swiftly followed the troops into Austria, establishing a Vienna branch in September. And as the Allied forces pushed the Germans back toward Berlin, the Coca-Cola men surged into Germany along with their bottling plants, refurbishing European mineral water operations and continuing to serve the troops their favorite beverage.

And therein lies the true beauty of capitalism. The Coca-Cola religion has no real morality, no commandment other than increased consumption of its drink. Consequently, it has been perfectly willing to co-exist with Hitler, bejeweled Maharajas, impoverished migrant workers, malnourished Africans, Guatemalan death squads, clear-cut Belizean rainforests, or repressive Chinese. Unlike most world governments, however, the Coca-Cola Company eventually acts out of enlightened self-interest. Because it values its squeaky-clean image above all else, it reacts far more quickly to bad publicity than any potentate.

Whenever you hear "Have a Coke," you hear the voice of America.

[1945 Coca-Cola Advertising Slogan]

Coca-Cola at War on Both Sides

While touring the Dusseldorf fair, Hermann goring paused for a Coke, and an alert Company photographer snapped a picture. [Find the photo, post it]