It isn't a rock star, yet it's crisscrossed more than 200 countries and reaches roughly 1 billion people every day. It isn't an artist, but it's inspired hundreds of paintings and sculptures.
It's a sparkling, sweetened beverage that's known all over the world, but enjoyed humble beginnings right in our own backyard.
To pay homage to the cultural icon Coca-Cola has become, the 125-year-old brand has its own 92,000-squarefoot museum in downtown Atlanta that covers every facet of the dynamic company. In true Coke fashion, it's less of a history lesson and more of an experience.
"There's very little behind glass," says Jacquie Wansley, marketing manager for the World of Coca-Cola. "You're not just reading and moving along in an orderly fashion."
The museum moved to its current location near Centennial Olympic Park four years ago, going from a building designed in the early 90s to a shining glass and steel structure showcasing the brand's position as an innovator. Wansley likens the upgrade as moving from the soda jerks of the early 1900s to the beverage's latest Freestyle machine, which offers more than 100 refreshment options at the push of a touch-screen panel, all in a slim-profile machine.
People can sample this technology in the museum's tasting room, in addition to 60 Coca-Cola fountain drinks from around the world. Some notable options are Japan's Vegitabeta, a water and beta-carotene mixture that tastes like apricot; Beverly, an Italian bitter aperitif made from quinine water and grapefruit extract; and Stoney Tangawizi from Africa, a fresh ginger drink.
And while the options in the tasting room offer an impressive selection of Coke's 500 different brands, the attraction is much more than a refreshment station. Inside, small children look up in amazement at the seven-foot polar bear character, as well as Wendy and Pete, animated characters from Coke's "Happification" movie shown in one of the museum's three theaters.
The other two highlight famous Coke commercials from past decades - including the hilltop folk singers crooning about teaching the world to sing - as well as the 4-D feature, "In Search of the Secret Formula," a 3-D movie featuring moving seats for a complete sensory experience.
In the Bottle Works section, a small bottling operation takes visitors through the actual process, which launched in Chattanooga when three entrepreneurs bought the U.S. bottling rights for $1 in 1899. At the end, guests are given a 125-year anniversary commemorative bottle.
The Pop Culture Gallery highlights artwork that has been inspired by the carbonated beverage. Famous folk artist Howard Finster and local jewelry designer Kathleen Plate are just a few who've created beautiful artwork from discarded pop tops, bottle caps, cans and bottles. In the visiting artists section, Chattanooga native Steve Penley was commissioned to create an impressive 48-foot mural chronicling Coke's history, from its creation by an Atlanta pharmacist to modern day. The Pop Culture section, more than any other, underscores how Coke has morphed from a popular drink to a cultural phenomenon.
"This brand is not ours," says Wansley. "It belongs to the people who actually buy it. It's not just the liquid that you purchase; it's what's going on when you enjoy it."
One of Wansley's favorite parts of the museum is the 1800's soda fountain featured in the milestones of Refreshment section. The behemoth structure, weighing one-and-a-half tons, once stood in a pharmacy near Milledgeville, Ga. On its side, a mosaic of Mexican alabaster, onyx and marble tiles represent the people who once sat at it, coming from different walks of life to share a refreshing drink with their neighbor.
"It was kind of like the Facebook of the day, but instead of getting on a keyboard they actually sat face-to-face, stopped for a minute and chatted, which we don't really do a lot these days," muses Wansley.
And while it may take a 4-D movie, a touch-screen soda fountain and an animated film, after 125 years The World of Coca-Cola is still uniting thousands of people, encouraging them to have a Coke and a smile.