Accessibility links

Breaking News

Coupons Hot When Every Penny Counts

In 1886, an Atlanta, Georgia, pharmacist served his customers a new medicinal drink that he'd developed in his home kitchen. John Pemberton cooked a mixture of water, sugar, coca leaves, cola nuts and other ingredients to make a syrup. He combined the sweet mixture with cold, carbonated water and called the drink Coca-Cola. He sold it at the pharmacy's counter for 5 cents a glass.

Coke, as it also came to be known, was an instant hit - and not just because of its refreshing recipe. Asa Candler, a local businessman who bought the Coca-Cola enterprise just two years after its debut - created a sensation all over Atlanta, and then the nation, by passing out handwritten tickets, called coupons, offering customers a free glass of Coca-Cola.

Soon cereal companies printed coupons as well. America was hooked, not just on these products, but also on coupons. Newspapers began printing coupons that knocked a few cents, or even a few dollars, off store prices. People by the millions clipped, saved and redeemed them - especially avidly during the Great Depression of the 1930s.

And not just grocers but also restaurants, car-rental chains and coffee bars are offering coupons to lure new customers in today's lean economic times. A coupon industry publication estimates that 89 percent of American households redeem coupons as a way to economize.

The scissor industry might have experienced a boom of its own from all this clipping, but alas for it, these days many times more coupons - including those that wipe away shipping charges on their purchases - are being offered online.

Read more of Ted's personal reflections and stories from the road on his blog, Ted Landphair's America.