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

Nov 19, 2015
Originally published on November 20, 2015 1:42 am

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.

An add for Coca-Cola in The PaC-SaC, a student publication from the Presbyterian College of South Carolina, circa 1922.
Internet Archive Book Images / Flickr

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.

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

I'm going to confess a pet peeve. Here at NPR, we use the word iconic a lot. But for this story, it is completely warranted.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: And for fast refreshment, there's just nothing like a frosty bottle of Coca-Cola.

SHAPIRO: The, yes, iconic glass bottle of Coke is turning 100-years-old. Ryan Delaney of member station WFYI reports.

RYAN DELANEY, BYLINE: It's 1915, and a bottle of Coca-Cola costs just a nickel. As the soft drink gains in popularity, it faces a growing number of competitors, knock-offs even trying to copy Coke's logo. So according to Coca-Cola historian Ted Ryan, it decides to come up with packaging that can't be duplicated.

TED RYAN: The company issued a creative brief. It was wonderfully simple, that creative brief. And that went to eight glass companies across America.

DELANEY: Workers at Root Glass Company here in Terre Haute, Ind., got that request and began flipping through the encyclopedia at the local library, landing on the cocoa pod. Though not an ingredient of the soda, they designed their bottle based off the pod's ribs and bulging middle. It won over Coke executives in Atlanta. Kevin O'Neill was an ad executive who now teaches at Syracuse University. He equates the Coke bottle design with the ubiquitous VW Beetle for recognizable brand shapes.

KEVIN O'NEILL: That's charming, isn't it? It wasn't designed at some highfalutin, you know, graphic design studio in SoHo. It was designed in the heart of the heart of the country.

BOB BAESLER: 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.

DELANEY: That's Bob Baesler who owns Baesler's Market in Terre Haute. He's talking about special commemorative Coke bottles with Terre Haute stamped on them.

BAESLER: Coke has been popular in Terre Haute for a long time.

DELANEY: It was 100 years ago this week that the contoured bottle earned a patent and has starred in ads ever since. 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. For NPR News, I'm Ryan Delaney. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.