When we think of a bottle of soda pop, a gently curving, green Coca-Cola hobbleskirt probably comes to mind. But since the beginning of the 20th century, soft drinks have been bottled in all sorts of shapes, from straight-sided cylinders of sarsaparilla to severely segmented bottles of NuGrape, whose bulbous, textured-and-embossed bodies are pinched in the middle and topped with elegant necks that appear to rest on a trio of concentric rings. Many bottles feature vertical embossing to accentuate their silhouettes, while others are ribbed horizontally, as if to give thirsty consumers a more ergonomic grip when grabbing their favorite frosty beverage from a bucket of ice.
The companies that bottled brands such as Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Dr Pepper, and Orange Crush are often central to the stories of these companies. For example, Coca-Cola was first bottled not by its inventor, John S. Pemberton, but by a Vicksburg, Mississippi, soda-fountain operator named Joseph A. Biedenharn, who, in 1894, sold the beverage to his customers in a common bottle-and-stopper design of the day known as a Hutchinson. Soon, a couple of Tennessee lawyers named Benjamin Thomas and Joseph Whitehead had obtained rights to bottle Coca-Cola throughout most of the United States (excluding Vicksburg) for the princely sum of one dollar.
Bottling may have been an afterthought to the people who ran Coca-Cola, but it wouldn’t be for the hundreds of other soft-drink entrepreneurs that sprung up after the introduction of the lighter, crown-top bottle in 1891, which made bottled beverages a viable business. In 1905, when Pepsi sold its first franchises to bottlers in North Carolina, the drink was bottled in amber glass, which was thought to extend its shelf life. By the end of 1907, though, with 40 Pepsi franchises bottling the drink, the company shifted to clear glass.
Green was also used, mostly because it was inexpensive to produce. But in 1915, the hue became an industry standard when Coca-Cola patented a new bottle shape that resembled either a cocoa pod and a hobbleskirt, depending on what you’d prefer to imagine. These days, the shape is often generically described as “contour.”
Other companies used embossing to differentiate themselves from competitors. In the 1920s, bottles of Orange Crush were clear with horizontal embossed ridges. These “krinklies,” as they are known, also had embossed diamond-shaped labels rather than paper ones. Amber krinklies with applied color labels (ACLs) were manufactured from the end of World War II until the mid-1970s. In parallel, from the 1950s through most of the 1960s, Orange Crush tried its own version of a hobbleskirt bottle, but the shape of this one was a good deal more full-figured, shall we say, than Coca-Cola’s, which is why this bottle is routinely referred to as the Mae West.
One characteristic that just about all soda-pop bottles from the first half of the 20th century have in common is the bottle’s city of origin, which is embossed right into the glass. This makes collecting bottles from this period, especially Coca-Cola bottles, particularly satisfying. In addition, Coca-Cola bottles produced after 1916 are easy to identify, since four-digit numbers found on the base or bottom of these bottles identify the mold and year of its manufacture.
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