Classic Coca-Cola Bottle Turns 100

100 years ago today, a glass company in Terre Haute, Indiana filed a patent for a glass soda bottle. It looked a bit different from the bottles of other drinks at the time: thinner at the bottom, but thicker through the middle, with rounded ridges tracing the bottle’s length. To this day, the Coca-Cola bottle is arguably one of the most recognized images around the world.

Coca-Cola has been around since the 1880s, when it was invented by an Atlanta pharmacist named Dr. John Pemberton. For years, it was sold in a glass at pharmacies and soda fountains, but it eventually became so popular that the growing company decided to start bottling it.

But with success came competition: Soon, look-alikes flooded store shelves across America, all vying for a piece of Coca-Cola’s market. So the company put out a call to bottle makers to design “a bottle that could be recognized when broken on the ground or by touch in the dark,” according to Coca-Cola’s website. Based on these guidelines, the Root Glass Company in Terre Haute, Indiana, made marketing history.

“It’s a masterpiece of American vernacular design,” design critic and Coca-Cola historian Stephen Bayley tells Mitchell Hartman for Marketplace. “ Whimsical, intuitive. The shape has an erotic suggestion about it. Functionally it works—you can hold it in your hand very easily.”

The bottle described in the patent isn’t quite the same as it is today: the bulging middle was so large that the bottle was too top-heavy to stand up straight, Lily Rothman reports for TIME. But with a little refinement, the iconic grooved soda bottle has come to define Coca-Cola in a way that few other packages have ever managed.
The company was even awarded a trademark for the bottle in 1977, citing a study that found that only one percent of Americans couldn’t identify the soda by the shape of the bottle alone.

When the company started canning Coke during the 1960s, they were emblazoned with a picture of the classic glass bottle to attract their loyal customers. And while Coke is now most often found in aluminum cans or plastic bottles, many people will still happily argue that it just tastes better when drunk from a glass bottle.

Even so, it wasn’t easy to standardize the emblematic bottle. In 1915, glass manufacturing on an industrial scale was still pretty new and manufacturers often fell prey to defective bottles like “Bums (bottles so disreputable that they must be discarded), Crocks (bottles chipped on the bottom) and Scuffles (bottles chipped around the trademark),” TIME wrote in a 1950 cover story about Coca-Cola.

Yet by ensuring that their bottles were not only uniform but also looked and felt different from everyone else’s Coca-Cola quickly spread across the country and the world.

The original patent for the Coca-Cola bottle resides in the National Archives in Washington, D.C., where it is on display until December 2.

Source: Smithsonian

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