Thursday, April 6, 2006
‘Rum and Coca Cola’ Was Known as ‘Cuba Libre’
By ROGER M. GRACE
The Andrews Sisters’ rendition of “Rum and Coca-Cola” became the No. 1 hit in the nation on Feb. 10, 1945, and is still being played. It might well be assumed that the at the time of the recording of the song, orders were being placed with frequency at bars for rum and Coca-Cola.
Actually, although “Coca-Cola” was sometimes specified as the mixer—often enough to spur the Coca-Cola to bring lawsuits over other colas being substituted—the drink was commonly known then (and is occasionally still referred to as) a “Cuba Libre.”
It’s believed to have been in August of 1900, in the aftermath of the Spanish-American War, that a member of the U.S. Signal Corps named Russell placed an order at The American Bar in Havana for his usual drink: Bacardi rum, Coca-Cola, and lime. In the company of Russell was a 14-year-old messenger, Fausto Rodriguez. According to a 1965 deposition of Rodriguez in an infringement action brought by Bacardi, other soldiers tried the drink, liked it, and it was dubbed, in tribute to their successful mission in liberating Cuba, the “Cuba Libre.”
The drink spread to the United States, first in the South, then other regions.
Puerto Rico Distilling Co. on June 16, 1937 sought registration of a federal trademark on the word “Ronricola,” a pre-mixed drink consisting of its brand of rum, Ronrico, with cola syrup and lime juice added. (Ads for Ronrico Rum also told the recipe for Ronricola, using Coca-Cola in unspecified proportion.)
The Coca-Cola Company opposed registration, insisting that consumers would assume that it was the manufacturer of the pre-mixed high ball. Back then, you might recall from previous columns, that company was contending that it had the exclusive right to use the word “cola” in the name of a beverage.
The Court of Customs and Patent Appeals on June 9, 1941, rejected Coca-Cola’s arguments in a 3-2 decision. The majority said that the word “Ronricola” is “suggestive of a mixed drink containing rum (Spanish ‘Ron’) and cola syrup or extract, but to our minds it does not even suggest a product such as Coca-Cola is well known to be.”
One of the countless trademark infringement actions brought by the Coca-Cola Company against a rival cola-maker was that which it waged against Snow Crest Beverages, manufacturer of Polar Cola, sold in 28-ounce bottles for use in bars. The plaintiff alleged that “Coca-Cola” and “Polar Cola” sounded so much a like that confusion could result when patrons placed their orders.
The First U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on June 10, 1947 affirmed a judgment for the defendant, saying:
“It appears that cola drinks, so called, are not frequently sold as such in bars and taverns. It appears that the principal use of cola beverages in such establishments is either as a chaser or as a mixer with spirits, usually rum or whiskey, and that when so used, as well as when dispensed alone, the drink is usually poured by the bartender at the bar from the bottle in which it came from the manufacturer into the glass served to the customer. Thus customers in bars and taverns seldom know by visual inspection what kind of cola beverage is served to them. And the evidence is that in the vast majority of cases they do not care. There is testimony that most customers order spirits and a cola drink by asking for a ‘Cuba Libre’ (rum and cola beverage mixed) or rum and cola or ‘coke’, or whiskey and cola or ‘coke’, or rum or whiskey with a cola or ‘coke’ chaser, that few customers specify the brand of whatever spirit they may wish served with the cola drink, and that still fewer ever specify any particular brand of cola beverage. The record is devoid of statistics—probably such statistics do not exist—but on the record as it stands we feel on safe ground in assuming that only a very small percentage of the persons who order a cola drink and a spirit in bars and taverns ever place specific orders for Coca-Cola. Therefore, we conclude, since the plaintiff has no right to the names ‘Cuba Libre’ or ‘cola’, and in this case asserts no right to the name ‘coke’, that relatively very few opportunities ever arise for passing off the defendant’s drink in bars and taverns on specific orders for the drink manufactured by the plaintiff.”
It’s puzzling that the Coca-Cola Company, vigilant as it had been for decades in protecting its trademark rights, did not assert that “Coke” was a trademark, insusceptible of generic useage.
Copyright 2006, Metropolitan News Company
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