Georgy Zhukov was a Soviet war hero with a serious drinking habit. The man loved Coca-Cola. However, the Soviet government considered Coke a sign of American imperialism and forbade its citizens from enjoying the soda. Unwilling to give up his favorite beverage, Zhukov asked America for help, and the Coca-Cola Company rose to the occasion.
The sugary soft drink is the world’s bestselling soda, but despite its international appeal, Coke is usually associated with America. And that posed a pretty big problem for Georgy Zhukov.
Zhukov was a Soviet general and a beloved World War II hero. He successfully defended Leningrad from the Nazis, was appointed Commander in Chief of the USSR’s western front, and fought the Germans at Moscow, Stalingrad, Kursk, and Berlin. However, when the Russian officer wasn’t crushing enemy troops, he was refreshing himself with the cold, crisp taste of Coca-Cola.
It was pretty easy to find a bottle of Coke during World War II, even if you were a soldier in the middle of a combat zone. In 1943, General Dwight D. Eisenhower asked the Coca-Cola Company to set up 10 bottling plants in North Africa. Before the war was finished, there were over 60 plants across Europe and the Pacific, all built as close as possible to the front lines. On top of that, the US government considered Coke crucial to defeating the Axis powers, going so far as to exempt the Atlanta-based corporation from sugar rationing.
With Zhukov pursuing the Germans across Europe, it was only a matter of time before he discovered America’s ice cold sunshine. In fact, Eisenhower himself gave Zhukov his first bottle, and soon, the Soviet general was a Coke addict. But when the war ended, Zhukov realized his drinking habit was in danger. Thanks to its association with the US, the Soviet government viewed Coca-Cola as a symbol of capitalistic decadence. The soft drink was forbidden inside the USSR, and it looked like Zhukov would have to live without his favorite drink.
Only this Soviet officer wasn’t going to give up so easily. Desperate for his soda pop, Zhukov went to Harry Truman. He asked the President if America could secretly send him a stash of Coke. But not just any Coke. These drinks had to be special. If someone saw him chugging an American soft drink, he’d probably end up in a Siberian gulag or worse, courtesy of Joseph Stalin. Truman was only too happy to help a war hero and asked the Coca-Cola people to work on a solution.
The first problem was the drink’s instantly recognizable brown color. However, a Coca-Cola chemist experimented with the recipe and found a way to create a clear soda. Secondly, the curvy bottle had to be redesigned as it was a dead giveaway. The final product was White Coke, a clear liquid in a straight bottle, complete with a red Soviet star on a white cap. Now Zhukov could safely sip his soda in public, and everyone else would think he was drinking vodka.
Not long after the White Coke incident, Georgy Zhukov fell out of favor with the Communist Party. He was forced out of power in 1957 and finally died in 1974, one year after Pepsi-Cola was allowed to sell its products inside the USSR. If Zhukov had only lived 12 more years, he would’ve been able to buy a regular Coke without fearing for his future. “The pause that refreshes” was finally allowed inside the Soviet Union in 1985, complete with contour bottle and the caramel-colored liquid Zhukov had loved so much.