Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » Dr. Pack and the Common Six-Pack

Dr. Pack and the Common Six-Pack

By: Ardis E. Parshall - July 30, 2008

Frederick J. Pack (1875-1938) was a highly educated, scientifically minded Latter-day Saint, with a doctorate in geology from Columbia University and an undergraduate education in mining engineering. He was a missionary, a professor of geology at the University of Utah, and the husband of Sadie Grant Pack, first counselor in the general Primary presidency.

Pack wrote several articles for church magazines concerning the origins of the earth. Writing in 1910-11, at precisely the time when questions of the origins of life and the physical universe were matters of much controversy, Pack adopted a waffling position, one that saved him from having to take a public stand in support of either the Biblical creationism of Joseph Fielding Smith or the hard science of James E. Talmage. Instead, his articles are merely descriptive: “The Biblical account says … Some scientists subscribe to the nebular theory of planetary creation, which is … Other scientists champion the meteoric theory, which is … ” So far as I can make sense of his writings, he never declares what he himself believes. The closest he comes to taking any stand is to say that the earth was not created in six 24-hour days – not because the geological record says otherwise, but because God lives outside of time and time as we know it is therefore irrelevant to the question.

Pack wrote on other topics, including the Spaulding theory, and Book of Mormon geography, and on the Word of Wisdom. Because I have not made a careful study of his bibliography, it may be a disservice to him to say that he deliberately obscured his credentials, but I note that many, if not all, of his articles on the Word of Wisdom are signed by “Dr.” Frederick J. Pack – a legitimate title given his Ph.D. in geology, but until I researched his background I assumed he was a medical doctor. His geological articles, by contrast, are usually signed “Frederick J. Pack, A.M., Ph.D., Deseret Professor of Geology, University of Utah.”

Pack’s Word of Wisdom articles most often concern avoidance of tobacco. His legacy for most of us, however, comes from an article on a different subject, published in the March 1918 issue of The Improvement Era:

Should Latter-day Saints Drink Coca-Cola?

By Dr. Frederick J. Pack

At noon recess of a recent general conference of the Church, while waiting by appointment for a friend at one of the city’s principal drug stores, the writer became very much astonished to witness a large number of brethren and sisters step up to the soda water counter, drink a [g]lass of coca-cola, and then walk away as if it were a regular practice.

Subsequent investigation has convinced the writer that great numbers of Latter-day Saints, who devotedly abstain from the use of tea and coffee, are persistent drinkers of coca-cola. It is quite generally known that this popular beverage is being extensively used by young people; the surprise, however, comes in the information that older and more experienced people are using it. Recent inquiry seems to indicate that the “Mormon” people in general are quite unfamiliar with the chemical composition of this drink and that its physiological effect is very much the same as that of tea or coffee.

Pack goes on to identify caffeine as a significant component of Coke as well as tea and coffee, and describes its effect on the body, declaring that it is worse mixed with sweet syrup than in the form of tea and coffee: “If you extract the caffeine and mix it with syrup, and flavor it, you can drink six or eight glasses of it [contrasted with what he says is the limit of two or three cups of tea or coffee], and there is no warning from your stomach, and you become a nervous wreck.” Caffeine is worse, he says, in Coke than in tea or coffee because there is something unnatural about adding it to a liquid where it does not naturally occur. Conspiring men in the form of Coca-Cola executives deceive consumers, he asserts, citing a company document that states “What we want you to understand, however, is the very important fact that there is caffeine in Coca-cola and that it is of actual benefit to you. It is there with a purpose – not by accident and never to be apologized for, explained, or even criticized.”

Pack describes the inroads this drug was making in Mormon society: “Especially during summer months it is not an unusual matter for business men and office girls to drink as high as five or more glasses of this beverage daily. The Coca-Cola Company claims that as much as seven to fourteen glasses of their beverage taken daily will not be injurious to health,” a claim which Pack disputes.

“Thus,” he concludes, “at the hands of the people who are attempting to defend it, caffeine is shown to be a true stimulant (literally a whip) goading the system on to abnormal activity, which is paid for by general impairment of health.

“Should the Latter-day Saints or, for that matter, anyone else, drink coca-cola?”

And there we have the same arguments against the drinking of colas that, with little if any modernization, are raised in every 21st century discussion of the question. At least now we know who to thank for the never-ending debate!

Please note that the point for discussion is the HISTORY of this and related questions (chocolate, perhaps, or other debatable Word of Wisdom matters) – please do not lead us into a run-of-the-mill argument over whether or not Coke or other common foods are against the Word of Wisdom. Thanks.



  1. For the record, I dislike carbonated drinks in general and the taste of cola in particular. The few sips I’ve ever had came when someone handed me a Coke in place of the rootbeer I had ordered. Therefore I’ve never developed the Coke habit, but by sheer accident, not out of any moral conviction. The whole Coke vs. Word of Wisdom debate is completely intellectual with me, kind of like debating the modesty of non-Western dress in some country I’ve never visited.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — July 29, 2008 @ 10:36 pm

  2. I, on the other hand, and just for the record, would like to buy the world a Coke (particularly if there’s one for me). Just don’t even try to suggest that there are substitutes that come even close: Pepsi–ugh!, “New” Coke–yuck!, “Store brand” Colas–may as well drink store brand pineapple soda. Coca-cola is the real thing.

    I don’t know anything of the history of the “stuff with caffeine is against the word of wisdom” teaching, but I remember a family friend from my childhood who religiously avoided chocolate. I couldn’t understand it then. And still can’t.

    Comment by Mark B. — July 30, 2008 @ 6:37 am

  3. Ardis, your comment #1 describes me perfectly. I never drank it growing up, so I simply don’t like the taste.

    My maternal grandfather, however, was a bishop and mayor in the town where I was raised (long before I lived there) – and he was addicted to Coke. He didn’t just drink a lot of it; he was flat-out addicted. Grandma hated that like she hated his “face cards” – and hid or threw away both on a regular basis. Grandpa just bought new ones (Cokes and cards) whenever Grandma cleaned house.

    Comment by Ray — July 30, 2008 @ 7:20 am

  4. I’ll have to pass this on to my father-in-law, Russell T Pack. My father-in-law retired a few years ago from a productive career in physical chemistry, coming up with methods for performing quantum calculations of colliding molecules. Before shifting to chemistry, he started out in geology, inspired by a geologist relative, but I think it was a living relative, and so not Frederick J. Pack–perhaps someone who was continuing in Frederick J. Pack’s footsteps.

    My wife’s experience is that every Pack she meets is a descendent of John Pack, a member of the 1847 vanguard company. You may remember the story of the hunting contest between him and John D. Lee, and the University of Deseret had its start in his home. I see that Frederick James Pack was a son of John Pack and Mary Jane Walker Pack, and so a brother of my father-in-law’s great-grandfather.

    Comment by John Mansfield — July 30, 2008 @ 7:26 am

  5. John Mansfield answers, in part, a question that struck me when I first read this post: wasn’t there a Pack in the chemistry department at BYU? (And, the other question: did science run in the family?) A quick glance at their website shows nobody of that name, either among current or emeritus faculty.

    So, John, did your father-in-law teach at BYU?

    Comment by Mark B. — July 30, 2008 @ 8:09 am

  6. Mark B., he taught at BYU for about five years. In 1974, he left BYU for a position at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

    Comment by John Mansfield — July 30, 2008 @ 8:29 am

  7. Thanks John. My father, Eliot Butler, was in the chemistry faculty for 35 years, including the five that your father-in-law was there. I never took a chemistry class, and only went into the Eyring building to see my dad, but the names on the doors in those dark hallways still ring a bell. (Speaking of which, Ardis, maybe it’s time for a post on Tracy Hall, who just died last week, who was the “father” of synthetic diamonds. He was another member of the chemistry faculty at BYU. An obituary is here.)

    Comment by Mark B. — July 30, 2008 @ 8:52 am

  8. He must have been good friends with the Widtsoes!

    Comment by J. Stapley — July 30, 2008 @ 9:23 am

  9. Ardis, is it your opinion that Dr Pack is the originator of the “drinking Coke violates the Word of Wisdom” idea, or that he just popularized it with his article?
    My father drank Coke just to annoy his parents, who were of the opinion that it violated the Word of Wisdom. He still does, drink coke, that is. Though not in the quatities he used to.

    Comment by BruceC — July 30, 2008 @ 9:39 am

  10. John:

    I thought so. My father taught chemistry at BYU for 35 years, and I vaguely recall seeing your father-in-law’s nameplate on a door along one of those dark hallways in the Eyring building. But, when I couldn’t find his name in either the current or retired faculty list at the department website, I figured that my memory was playing tricks on me again.

    Comment by Mark B. — July 30, 2008 @ 10:25 am

  11. I gave up carbonated drinks in general about 10 years ago, and haven’t looked back. I don’t miss them, and I never really enjoyed them in the first place.

    Besides, since I’ve decided to cut as much refined sugar and high fructose corn syrup out of my diet as possible, Coca-Cola (and 99% of carbonated beverages) have become a moot point anyway.

    As for the Coke thing –

    I keep hearing an urban legend (always told as absolutely true, but never verified) that either Vaughn J. Featherstone, Ezra Taft Benson, Thomas Monson, or Hartman Rector Jr. drank a Coke on the stand during a General Conference in order to make the point that drinking Coke is okay. Anyone else heard this rumor?

    Comment by Ivan Wolfe — July 30, 2008 @ 10:48 am

  12. BruceC, this is the earliest mention I have found concerning Coke in connection with the WoW. I *think* Pack probably was the originator of the entire debate, since our modern debate follows his so very, very closely. I’m not absolutely positive we owe the debate to Pack, but it’s looking that way in my view.

    Ivan, I’ve never heard that story, and it does seem highly unlikely that a stunt like that would have been pulled in General Conference. Over the BYU devotional pulpit, maybe, or a stake or youth conference, maybe, but the GC setting makes me skeptical. The pro-Coke people would be using that as a club over the heads of the anti-Coke faction, if such an easily documented demonstration were available, wouldn’t they?

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — July 30, 2008 @ 11:12 am

  13. The way I heard the urban legend, about the GA drinking Coke on the stand, it was at the MTC.

    Comment by BruceC — July 30, 2008 @ 11:16 am

  14. I just talked to a friend about caffeine yesterday. I also subscribe to the people who dislike the taste of cola as well as carbonation (yeah, that causes problems in Germany where they drink carbonated water). So I luckily avoid the whole do-I-think-it’s-okay-or-not thing. However, I think it’s up to the individual and that people need to realize themselves that more than just caffeine can be habit forming or used out of moderation or harmful to the body. I quit eating chocolate two months ago because I just couldn’t eat it in moderation. Maybe some day I’ll get there, but it just wasn’t healthy.

    Comment by Michelle Glauser — July 30, 2008 @ 11:30 am

  15. 11-13: I’ve heard the story but set at a stake conference with President BK Packer doing the conspicuous consumption.

    Comment by Edje — July 30, 2008 @ 11:47 am

  16. Ivan –

    My father served in the Central States mission and insists, INSISTS, that Sterling W. Sill pulled the “Am I going to Hell?” bit after drinking a Coke on the stand, during a district or stake conference.

    Comment by queuno — July 30, 2008 @ 2:03 pm

  17. Re my own #16 – I just called my father. Here are his comments:

    – S. Dilworth Young was doing a mission tour of the Central States Mission
    – He was speaking at a small, inbred branch in Springfield, MO (everyone knew each other, had intermarried, etc.)
    – 1960
    – This was a regular sacrament meeting.

    Comment by queuno — July 30, 2008 @ 2:08 pm

  18. (So my #17 supercedes my #16. #17 was written while I talked to him. #16 was from my recollection of his story.)

    Comment by queuno — July 30, 2008 @ 2:09 pm

  19. Actually, it was Boyd K. Packer. He drank a whole six-pack of Coke at a mission conference in Altoona, Pennsylvania, and then announced that John S. Pemberton (the guy who invented Coke) had been a field marshal in the war in heaven.

    Comment by Mark B. — July 30, 2008 @ 2:26 pm

  20. Pfffft!!

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — July 30, 2008 @ 2:49 pm

  21. Then it must be John S. Pemberton who is giving me unwritten orders to consume diet Coke.

    From Greg Prince’s David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism:

    “He gently chided Apostle John A. Widtsoe, whose wife advocated such a rigid interpretation of the Word of Wisdom as to proscribe chocolate because of the stimulants it contained, saying, “John, do you want to take all the joy out of life? But he didn’t’ stop there. At a reception McKay attended, the hostess served rum cake. “All the guests hesitated, watching to see what McKay would do. He smacked his lips and began to eat.” When one guest expostulated, “’But President McKay, don’t you know that is rum cake?’ McKay smiled and reminded the guest that the Word of Wisdom forbade drinking alchohol, not eating it.”
    During intermission at a theatrical presentation, his host offered to get refreshments: “His hearing wasn’t very good, and I got right down in front of him and I said, ‘President McKay, what would you like to drink? All of our cups say Coca Cola on them because of our arrangement with Coca Cola Bottling, but we have root beer and we have orange and we have Seven-Up. What would you like to dink?” And he said, ‘I don’t care what it says ON the cup as long as there is Coke IN the cup.’”(p.23)

    Comment by Mark IV — July 30, 2008 @ 2:54 pm

  22. Ardis, your # 20 sounded like the spewing of diet Pepsi all over the computer monitor, a sound I am much familiar with. However, since you are not a cola drinker, I am trying to determine from the sound if it was Dad’s, A&W, or Mug root beer?

    [edited — thanks for understanding, kevinf, and for laughing at the whole situation]

    Comment by kevinf — July 30, 2008 @ 5:36 pm

  23. OK, Mark IV beat me to the David O. McKay quote (which I’d have to summarize from memory, anyway, since I’m a few thousand miles from home right now).

    When the issue came up in a zone conference in my mission (Central America, 1972-74), Pres. Hunsaker spoke of one of the Apostles coming through the mission on a tour a year or so earlier. Pres. Hunsaker and the Apostle were invited to a formal state dinner by the government of Costa Rica (where the mission had its HQ). At the start of the dinner, the waiters started to bring out wine, and Pres. Hunsaker took one aside and explained that they didn’t drink alcohol. The waiter smiled and came back a minute later with coffee — and Pres. Hunsaker explained again. The waiter left and returned with two bottles of Coca Cola, along with glasses with ice in them. Pres. Hunsaker said that he and the Apostle looked at one another, and the Apostle picked up his Coke, filled his glass, and drank it throughout the meeting.

    I could be wrong, but I think the Apostle was Elder Hinckley (though it may well have been President Kimball, then Pres. of the Twelve).

    By the way, for the Coke fans here, you can often get Coke in 12 oz. glass bottles and made with cane sugar at Costco. (It’s bottled in Mexico.) ..bruce..

    Comment by bfwebster — July 30, 2008 @ 6:21 pm

  24. Oops…that should have been “throughout the dinner”. ..bruce..

    Comment by bfwebster — July 30, 2008 @ 6:22 pm

  25. It’s A&W, kevin, no doubt about that. Two liters in the summertime for rootbeer floats… mmmm…

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — July 30, 2008 @ 7:31 pm

  26. I’ll send you a buck to replace the root beer, Ardis. But I won’t be responsible for any damage to your computer.

    Comment by Mark B. — July 30, 2008 @ 8:33 pm

  27. Nothing to add but my thanks for a good laugh. I’ve heard all the quotes in the past, but some things are too good to laugh only once.

    Comment by Ray — July 30, 2008 @ 8:52 pm

  28. That state dinner reminds me of what Johns Hopkins nephew Joseph said of him:

    “I never took a dinner at Clifton when there was not champagne, whether company was there or not. Jim (a servant) started to fill my glass and I put my hand over it. ‘Take thy hand off thy glass, Joe’ said Uncle Johns. ‘Let the wine stand if thee does not want it, but don’t publish thy temperance resolves.'”

    Also, my father-in-law wrote back that it was Frederick Pack whose example he followed in initially majoring in geology. Though Frederick Pack had died before my father-in-law was born, the family still talked of him admiringly. Frederick’s older brother Quince Rufus lived to an advanced age, and my father-in-law was close to him.

    Speaking of Quince Rufus: he had a younger half-sister Sedenia Tamson and an older half-brother Orson Parley. Get the pattern? The things it takes to name 45 children! Fortunately for Frederick James, this particularly naming scheme ended before he came along. Walter Xenophon and Yoma Zenith weren’t so lucky.

    Comment by John Mansfield — August 1, 2008 @ 6:50 am

  29. John, that should be considered cruel and unusual punishment – although it was more common than many realize.

    Comment by Ray — August 1, 2008 @ 8:00 am

  30. Sometime we should have a post and discussion, rather than burying it in comments, about Mormon naming patterns. I know it has been done before by others, but John’s example is new to me, and it is always fun. When we do that, let’s try to remember where this is buried and bring it over into the new discussion.

    … where I will undoubtedly bring up my two favorite central Utah names of the late 19th century: Josephina Brighamina, and DeBris.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 1, 2008 @ 8:11 am

  31. The pattern I noticed, John, was Sedenia Tamson and Orson Parley. Maybe if they’d named them in that order, someone would have taken the hint!

    Our first four children’s names begin with the letters M A R and K (not in order, and completely inadvertent). Our fifth (and last) child has a name that begins with the first letter of my wife’s name. After I realized what we had done, I told Deanna: Now we just need five more children, to use up the remaining letters in your name.

    You can see how far that suggestion went.

    Comment by Mark B. — August 1, 2008 @ 8:45 am

  32. Ardis,
    Was “your” Dr. Pack per chance descended from “my” farmer John Pack, who complained to Brigham Young in August 1857 after six Nauvoo Legionnaires entered his field and at gunpoint forcibly unhitched one of his horses from a farm wagon for use on the Nebraska plains in making first contact with the approaching Utah Expedition? If so, you might wish to run Farmer Pack’s indignant letter. To me, it reflects not only the at-times-heavy-handed side of Legion military operations but the extent to which at least one prosperous Mormon farmer felt free to question decisions from from those “above” him in the scheme of things that he felt to be unjust.

    Comment by Bill MacKinnon — August 2, 2008 @ 2:21 pm

  33. Bill, “my” Dr. Pack is a son of “your” farmer John Pack (who was also the owner of the carriage our friends Ambrose and Betts were driving out of town that fall day in 1856). That’s another indication of how small 19th century Utah society really was, and why I think it is almost always possible to name imperfectly identified people mentioned in the documents.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 2, 2008 @ 2:47 pm

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