When Coca-Cola Made Special Soda For The Soviets

The post-WWII deal that got colorless Coke into Soviet hands. Also: how Coke happily sold to the Nazis.

Officially Coca-Cola was not available in the Soviet Union until 1985, but certain supreme Soviets had gotten their hands on it much, much earlier. Like, right after the end of WWII.

Marshall Georgy Zukhov, the man who led Soviet forces through Eastern Europe and captured Berlin, developed a taste for Coke during the war. While Coke had been available in Europe (as Coke was declared essential to morale, the company was exempted from sugar rations and Coke bottling plants were set up just a step behind Allied forces as they took back Europe), it wasn't able to get into the Soviet Union, where it was seen as a tool of American imperialism. But Zukhov was a big deal - he was the most highly decorated officer in Russian history - and so if he wanted Coke, he'd get Coke. He just knew there was no way he could be seen in public drinking the stuff.

Zukhov contacting the Allies, and his request for a supply of secret Coke was relayed to none other than Harry S Truman, president of the United States. Truman got in touch with the Coca-Cola people, and they didn't have to be asked twice to solve the problem. They assigned a chemist to the task, and he was able to remove the coloring from Coke while retaining flavor. Almost 50 years before Crystal Pepsi would bomb out, Coke was developing a clear version of their soda. 

To finish the job, the clear Coke - known as White Coke - was bottled in a straight bottle, not the famously contoured Coke bottle. The cap was white, with a red star in the middle. The first shipment was 50 cases, but I've never been able to figure out just how much White Coke was produced over the years. 

There's a happy side to this story, the idea that an American soft drink was able to bridge some gaps in the first days of the Cold War. But that probably wasn't what Coke was worried about - they had no compunctions against selling to less than savory nations. 

in 1935, Coca-Cola was certified kosher for the first time. That didn't go down well with Adolf Hitler, who already didn't like the drink because it was high in sugar (Hitler was big into healthy living). Coke ingratiated themselves into the Third Reich by passing out free product at Hitler Youth rallies, and even had swastikas on display at their bottling conventions. Coke was pretty willing to sell their product to the Nazis for as long as they could, even as it became clear that Hitler and his pals were scum. Coke was so interested in selling to the Germans that, after Coke syrup became impossible to import into Germany in 1941, the head of Coca-Cola Deutschland invented a new drink known as Fanta. Fanta ended up becoming a part of the regular Coke line-up after the war. 

Image by Face Master

For more on the history of Coca-Cola, read Mark Pendegrast's For God, Country, and Coca-Cola: The Definitive History of the Great American Soft Drink and the Company That Makes It