Q. A few of us avid clippers are wondering: How and when did our love for coupons start?
-- G.F., of Belleville
A. Long before TV jingles promised us that things would go better with Coke, a fledgling soda company owner decided that Coke might go better with coupons.
Boy, did it ever. Using what is generally regarded as the first coupon campaign, Coca-Cola in one decade went from being sold in one drugstore to a nationwide favorite.
After that, it slowly dawned on businesses that offering consumers a few cents off their products made a lot of sense -- and dollars -- for the companies. Now, nearly 80 percent of Americans redeem at least one coupon every year, creating a multibillion-dollar industry that's finding new success on the Internet.
But you wouldn't have needed even a scissors to cash in those first coupons. The year was 1886 when Atlanta pharmacist John Pemberton whipped up his now legendary caramel-colored liquid. He carried it down to Jacobs' Pharmacy, where it was mixed with carbonated water. Customers quickly agreed it was the real thing so Jacobs started selling it for 5 cents a glass.
It was Pemberton's bookkeeper, Frank Robinson, who reportedly dubbed it Coca-Cola, which he wrote out in the same script you find today on cans and bottles. Still, it might have remained just an Atlanta curiosity had not Asa Griggs Candler come along and bought the rights to the business for about $2,300.
In the soda's first year, the drugstore reportedly sold fewer than a dozen glasses a day, hardly anything to plan a retirement around. But after buying the rights to the company, Candler had a brainstorm: He began distributing handwritten coupons, each good for a free glass of Coke. In return, vendors were given free syrup as compensation.
It was like opening a can of shaken soda. By 1895 Coke was everywhere. By 1913, roughly 10 percent of Americans had enjoyed one of the estimated 8.5 million free drinks Candler had given away. Some even credit him for calling them "coupons" (from the French "couper," meaning "to cut"), although the word had been used for decades in other contexts. Now, a century later, people guzzle down 1.7 billion servings of Coke each day the world over, according to the company.
The lesson wasn't lost on other food-industry magnates. As the 20th century dawned, C.W. Post began offering 1-cent-off coupons for his cereals and other products. As you might guess, the coupon craze really took hold during the Depression. Trying to entice people to open up their wallets, more companies began offering coupons, which quickly became hot commodities for frugal food shoppers. By the 1940s, chain supermarkets had begun issuing their own coupons to lure customers away from local stores.
Couponing has skyrocketed ever since. By 1957, the industry had grown so much that the Nielsen Clearing House became the first company dedicated solely to redeeming the millions of coupons that flooded the market each year.
By 1965, about half of U.S. population used them. They became so popular that friends and family started to give each other homemade offers for free car washes, vacuuming -- even hugs.
Now, since 1995, the rage has moved to the Internet with numerous coupon sites, downloadable coupons and bar codes that can be scanned from cell phones. As a result, nearly 3,000 companies still offer the ubiquitous things, and shoppers used them to save $4.6 billion last year.
So why is it I never have my Tidy Cat coupon when I need it? Oh, well, to see what may be the world's first coupons, go to http://socialtimes.com, search for "coupon history" and click on the first non-advertisement link.
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Answer to Sunday's trivia: If you think watching a 100-mph fastball coming at you is something, how would you like to try to return a 160-mph tennis serve? That's what Australian pro Jarmila Gajdsova faced May 12 when fellow Aussie Sam Groth launched that missile toward him during a tournament in South Korea. Although ranked only No. 340 in the world, the 24-year-old Groth now holds the world's record for fastest serve at 263 kilometers per hour (163.4 mph), easily zipping past the 156-mph serve by Ivo Karlovic last year and the 155-mph offerings by Andy Roddick in 2004 and Milos Raonic earlier this year. A Bill Tilden serve was said to be timed at 163.3 in 1931, but is generally not recognized because of questionable technological accuracy. Sisters Venus and Serena Williams are one-two among women with blistering aces of 129 and 128, respectively.
Send your questions to Roger Schlueter, Belleville News-Democrat, 120 S. Illinois St., P.O. Box 427, Belleville, IL 62222-0427 or email@example.com