When Coca-Cola first hit the market, one of the selling points was that it was a lot of refreshment for a mere nickel. Between the advertising, fixed-price bottling contracts that encouraged Coca-Cola to keep the price of the finished product low, and the rise of the vending machine, the price of a bottle of Coke stayed at 5 cents for the first half of the 20th century.
The vending machines played the largest role in the price problems Coca-Cola had to wrangle with. In 1950, Coca-Cola owned 85% of the 460,000 vending machines in the United States, and these vending machines couldn’t produce change for consumers. In their attempts to deal with rising costs and a public fixed on the idea of buying a Coke for a single coin (a nickel, at that), Coke resorted to some practical and impractical tactics. The most practical of their approaches was to simply phase out the whole concept of a nickel Coke from their advertising; from 1951 onward, no new Coca-Cola
advertisements made mention of the nickel Coke. Another approach, much more impractical and quick to anger consumers, was to set up machines so that one in 10 bottles was empty. They called it an “official blank” and it required the purchaser to insert an extra nickel to get a full bottle. We hardly have to emphasize how unpopular this short lived solution was; it was never deployed on the national level.
Finally, equally as impractical but not angering to consumers: in 1953 Coca-Cola lobbied the U.S. Treasury to begin issuing 7.5 cent coins. Their motivation for the lobbying was so that consumers could continue to purchase Cokes with a single coin but that single coin would account for the rising cost of a bottle of Coke without forcing the consumer to spend a whole dime. The proposal was soundly rejected, and by the end of the 1950s, the last of the nickel Cokes had been sold and the price of Coca-Cola began to rise with inflation like other consumer goods.
Image courtesy of Coca-Cola.