In Keeping with the Winter Theme

Like the title says, winter is a fantastic font of random information.  Today’s installment of holiday history is brought to you by snow.  Kind-of.  Just consider snow to be a really thin thread of logic that loosely ties the parts together.

In 1972, Richard Nixon traveled to China after a long period of political standoff between the States and the People’s Republic.  Nixon had the classic list of random locations to visit and gladhand Chinese diplomats, but he insisted upon a special trip being made.  He wanted to see the Great Wall of China, and as we learned from Watergate; what Nixon wants, Nixon goes to great lengths to have.  It was deep in winter during his trip, so inclement weather had struck and the journey to the Great Wall as well as the Wall itself were coated with a layer of snow.  Beijing’s Municipal government issued an all call to the citizens, asking them to grab dustpans and brushes and gather snow from the road and the part of the Wall that Nixon wanted to see.  Overnight, some 100,000 Chinese citizens went out and cleared snow from the roads and Wall so that Nixon and his wife could see it the next morning.

I won’t pretend to have a good segue into this next part, it’s really just a cool story about the Great Wall that needs to be told.  The Myth of Jiayuguan pass (Jiayuguan translates directly to “Excellent Valley Pass”)is a classic story about the Great Wall from when the gate section in Gansu was being built.  The myth is that the builder of the gate was told to estimate the number of bricks he would need.  He told the officials that he would need 99,999 bricks and when questioned added a single brick to the estimated number.  When the gate was built, a single brick remained leftover and was placed loosely on top of the gate, to show that it was not needed.

Back to snow stories and clunky transitions: Cocaine!  Another name people use for it is, believe it or not, snow.  Coca-Cola in the 1890s had trace amounts of cocaine in it because of the coca extract that went into flavoring it.  America’s drink didn’t remove the cocaine in it until 1929, by which point they had also began using the jolly elf of Christmas as their chief winter salesman.  The Coca-Cola public relations peoples enjoy telling the story that they are the entire reason for the chubby, ruddy cheek’d beard becoming the red suit we know today.  There are however, several images of the incarnadine Kringle from years before the Cola company began their advertising flood, as early as 1906.  While Coca-Cola was not the first to produce a happy red man, they were certainly a large reason for it becoming a standard image that can be recognized readily nearly a century later.

Part of the other reason why Coke has been able to spread their brand image (and the images they advertise, like Santa and the 1993 introduction of polar bears) so far and so successfully was World War II.  Coca-Cola, while quite popular in the early 1900s, was blasted to rockstar status during the Second World War.  They had paired their company brand with patriotism in the First World War, and when the Second World War hit, the company promised servicemen that it would sell them their Cola for the same price they sold it during the Great War, $0.05 a bottle.  Whenever a region was taken over by the American forces, advisers would set up a bottling operation to keep the flow of Coke going.  Cola even commissioned studies to prove that soldiers who were well hydrated would fight better.  Colonel Robert L. Scott said when he shot down Japanese fighter planes he only thought about “America, Democracy, and Coca-Colas.”  10 billion bottles of Cola later and the brand was a smash hit globally by the end of the war, and the brand images were disseminated widely.

Hopefully y’all learned something new, something cool or something different.  And the next time the television shows little polar bears chugging coke amid deep snowfall, just think to yourself how many subtle ironies you have just witnessed.

Citations, cuz it’s easier than persuading you I’m Omniscient:


Nixon abroad

The architect totally named “Excellent Valley Pass”

Coke, Cocaine, Snow, Santa and some really strained word associations
and a Bottle of Rum: A History of the New World in Ten Cocktails, by Wayne Curtis, (Crown Publishers, New York. 2006)


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