In vintage Coca-Cola ads, the Coca-Cola Girls were the preferred subject from the 1890s through the 1960s. Bathing beauties, women at play and servicewomen from World Wars I and II are the images one is most likely to remember. In the early days of Coca-Cola advertising, before the days of television advertising, very talented illustrators brought Coke ads—and the women—to life.
When Coca-Cola was first introduced in 1886 by John Pemberton, it was as a drink for medicinal use. When the Coke formula was acquired by Asa Candler in 1892, he incorporated the Coca-Cola Company and began to produce Coca-Cola as a soft drink, making it the huge success it is today. Numerous artists were hired to produce elegant, colorful advertising and beautiful young women in Victorian dress began to grace Coca-Cola advertisements. At first, the Victorian women in Coke ads were reserved and demure.
The 1890s marked the beginning of America’s Golden Age of Illustration. This period was defined by the creation of incredibly colorful, inviting illustrations of scenes of everyday life. Ads in the 1890s featured the famous Gibson Girls created by illustrator Charles Dana Gibson. His Gibson Girl was the ideal of beauty until the end of WWI. She was considered the new woman; confident, athletic who no longer required an escort in public, but someone who had adventures on her own. The Gibson Girls also inspired artists working for Coke who created illustrations for ads and serving trays featuring Gibson-style girls.
The Golden Age of Illustration lasted until just after WWI, although several illustrators had very active careers for decades after that. Among these artists was Haddon Sundblom, one of the most famous artists to create illustrations for Coca-Cola and most well known for creating the modern image of Santa Claus.
The first billboard illustration for Coca-Cola in 1925 was that of a bellhop illustrated by artist Frederick Mizen. The very following year, the ladies took over when the first “Coca-Cola girl” billboard, illustrated by newly hired Haddon Sundblom, was created. The bevy of beauties that followed on billboards, print ads and Coca-Cola products became known as the Coca-Cola Girls.
In addition to Haddon Sundblom, other great Coca-Cola artists were Hamilton King, Gil Elvgren and Frederick Mizen, to name but a few. They portrayed the Coca-Cola Girls as beautiful, healthy and happy young women. Coca-Cola Girls have always been appealing, free-spirited and wholesome.
The Coca-Cola Girls have become an icon of true Americana—a symbol of the homefront—especially during WWI and WWII. What better way to boost the morale of soldiers everywhere? Ads with illustrations of alluring young women continued into the 1960s. After that, TV commercials and ads utilized photography—mostly of the product itself. Nearly all will agree, nothing compares to the Golden Age of Illustrations and the Coca-Cola beauties—albeit fictional girls—that Coca-Cola artists created.
Can you tell us what was your favorite era for the Coca-Cola Girls and why?