An update on yesterday’s post regarding the anniversary of Harry Hollingworth’s caffeine research and the 1911 Coca-Cola trials:
For AHP readers wanting more information: the 2010 article, “Coca-Cola – Brain tonic or poison?“, in The Psychologist by Ludy Benjamin of Texas A&M University is freely available online through the British Psychological Society. Benjamin details The United States Government vs. Forty Barrels, Twenty Kegs Coca-Cola trial including Hollingworth’s research on caffeine consumption and the aftermath of the trial’s dismissal.
One hundred years (this month) have passed since the famous Coca-Cola trials – and the discussions of the effect of caffeine levels on health are still ongoing. Yesterday the New York Times published an article highlighting this link between the contemporary debates surrounding energy drinks and the anniversary of the 1911caffeine trail.
The 1911 trial, which took place in Chattanooga, Tennesse, focused on whether or not the 80 milligrams of caffeine in Coca-Cola were harmful to humans (the New York Times article points out that this amount equates to the caffeine content found in Red Bull drinks today).
To mount their defense, Coca-Cola hired psychologist Harry Hollingworth to test the mental and motor skills of individuals at varying levels of caffeine consumption. Hollingworth studied 16 participants of varying caffeine habits and testified that moderate doses of caffeine stimulated performance while sleep was affected by some at the higher dose level.
However, the jury was not given a chance to deliberate with the trial ending in dismissal. No decision was therefore rendered regarding safe levels of caffeine.
Although the article links the 1911 caffeine levels in Coca-Cola to current-day levels in energy drinks, it does not address the fact that contemporary Coca-Cola contains less than half the original amount. Their website lists the following caffeine amounts:
- Coca-Cola Classic: 23 milligrams (per 240mL or 8 fl oz)
- Diet Coke, Coca-Cola Zero: 23-31 milligrams (per 240 mL or 8 fl oz)
Coca-Cola has continued to focus on the research between caffeine and health – its website features a number of articles on this topic (caffeine & health; caffeine & bone health; caffeine & dehydration).
I also found it interesting that the history portion of the Coca-Cola website does not acknowledge the trial, instead focusing on the emergence of similar products between 1905-1918.
Thanks to Cathy Faye for bringing this article to the attention of AHP!
According to the APA‘s Today in the History of Psychology site, on March 16th 1911 the trial of the United States v. 40 Barrels and 20 Kegs of Coca-Cola began.
The ordeal began when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration seized a shipment of Coca-Cola syrup in 1909 based on the suspicion that caffeine was harmful.
The trial featured testimony from psychologist Harry Hollingworth who examined the effects of caffeine on mental function. Although the research was funded by the Coca-cola company, Hollingworth had several stipulations in his contract including the right to publish his results, regardless of their outcome.
Coca-cola would be acquitted of the charges on June 13, 1914.
Continue reading US v. 40 Barrels and 20 Kegs of Coca-Cola