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What Coca-Cola's logo reveals about the history of writing in America

A wall of cans of Coca-Cola, with the brand written in different languages, is displayed in the FIFA Fan Fest on June 23, 2014, in Belo Horizonte, Brazil.
A wall of cans of Coca-Cola, with the brand written in different languages, is displayed in the FIFA Fan Fest on June 23, 2014, in Belo Horizonte, Brazil.
Oli Scarff/Getty Images

You've probably never seen Coca-Cola's original logo. It first appeared in a humble Atlantic Journal ad on May 29, 1886:

The font used in the first ad for Coca-Cola in 1886 was quite boring.

Atlantic Journal/Coca-Cola

The second version is much closer to what we know as one of the most recognized logos of all time. It used Spencerian type, named after Platt Rogers Spencer. Spencerian was popularly used by schools and businesses across the United States, and it was the inspiration for Frank Robinson, the bookkeeper of Coca-Cola inventor John Pemberton and the man who created the first logo very similar to the one we know today:

Frank Robinson's Coca-Cola logo, in Spencerian type.

Fine Print NYC

We don't all write in the "Coca-Cola" font because time is money

Over time, the Spencerian font was replaced by a simplified version, called Palmer Method. Palmer rose to popularity around the turn of the 19th century, about the same time the typewriter was invented.

Thus was born the standoff between those who wrote and those who typed. In general, Americans needed to write more, faster. Around the turn of the century, public education and new workforce opportunities expanded well beyond the wealthy or upper middle class. One such writer was Mark Twain, who invested more than $200,000 in the technology.

But the writers who didn't have typewriters needed a way to keep up with those who did, and Palmer was the bridge between Spencerian and the age of personal computers. You may recognize the Palmer Method, though, since it remains a standard for American cursive handwriting:

The Palmer Method of Business Writing, 1901.

Even the Palmer Method was replaced eventually, by an even simpler form of type called italics, a name you might recognize because we still use it when referencing its modern digital persona.

There's an alternative universe, though, in which Americans kept writing in cursive, the typewriter never took off, and we are living much slower lives, drinking Coca-Cola just the same.


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