From Grocery Shelves To Pop Culture: A Century of Coca-Cola Bottles

November 19, 2015

Whether it’s in the hands of animated polar bears or Santa Claus, there’s one thing you’ll find in nearly all ads for Coca-Cola: the emblematic glass bottle.

Most Americans don’t drink soda out of the glass bottles seen in Coke’s ads anymore. But this week, the company is celebrating a century of the bottle that’s been sold in more than 200 countries.

Flash back to 1915, when a bottle of Coca-Cola cost just a nickel. As the soft drink gained in popularity, it faced a growing number of competitors — knockoffs even trying to copy Coke’s logo. So according to Coca-Cola historian Ted Ryan, it decided to come up with packaging that couldn’t be duplicated.

“The company issued a creative brief. It was wonderfully simple, that creative brief. And that went to eight glass companies across America,” Ryan says.

Workers at the Root Glass Co. in Terre Haute, Ind., got that request and began flipping through the encyclopedia at the local library, landing on cocoa pod.

Though not an ingredient of the soda, they designed their bottle based on the pod’s ribs and bulging middle. It won over Coke executives in Atlanta and would go on to receive its own trademark, spur collections and earn Coca-Cola an iconic image that made it a mainstay of Americana for a century.

“That’s charming, isn’t it? It wasn’t designed at some highfalutin graphic design studio in SoHo; it was designed in the heart of the heart of the country,” Kevin O’Neill, an advertising executive who now teaches at Syracuse University, says.

He equates the Coke bottle design with the ubiquitous VW Beetle for recognizable brand shapes.

The special commemorative Coke bottles with Terre Haute stamped on them are flying off the shelves.

“We’ve probably gone through about six pallets. The first month, they were picking them up, people were buying four, five, six packs at a time,” Bob Baesler, owner of Baesler’s Market in Terre Haute, says. “Coke has been popular in Terre Haute for a long time.”

It was 100 years ago this week that the bottle earned a patent. By World War II, Coke bottle sales had ballooned into the billions.

Americans mostly consume Coke out of aluminum or plastic today, but the contoured glass bottle remains a part of Americana that’s readily recognized around the world.

Copyright 2015 WFYI-FM. To see more, visit http://www.wfyi.org.

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