Bottle openers only became common kitchen items after the crown top (also called the crown cork) was invented by a Baltimore bottler named William Painter in 1892. Prior to that, Hutchinson and other types of beer and soft-drink bottles came with attached stoppers. This was convenient for consumers, but the stoppers did a poor job of keeping the contents of the bottle fresh. Crown-top bottles were a huge improvement from a health standpoint, but they required a tool to be opened.

William Painter invented that, too, and as his crown technology was embraced by more and more bottlers, bottle openers were produced in enormous numbers, usually with advertisements on them for beverages, bars, and restaurants. While most openers were made to do only one thing well (i.e., to open a bottle), others were produced as multifunctional devices, with folding knives, corkscrews, button hooks, cigar cutters, and, eventually, can openers incorporated into their designs.

The earliest bottle openers were small and shaped somewhat like keys, with a round hole in one end so it could be attached to a keychain, and the opener itself at the other. From the 1910s to around 1930, many of these openers also had a small square hole in them, which was designed to open and close the gas-powered Prest-o-lite valves on automobile headlights, which were common before electric headlights became the norm.

Variations on the basic key shape of early openers include fish, bottles, boots, a pirate’s cutlass, cigars, and the heads of various animals, from eagles to horses. Some openers abandoned the key shape altogether in favor of figurals, such as a man riding a Harley-Davidson motorcycle. Metals used in these early, flat openers include cast iron, steel, and brass.

The presence of a Prest-o-lite hole is one way to date an opener, but another clue is to look for the name of the company that made the opener, which, prior to 1920, was commonly stamped into the metal. Company names to pay attention to include Vaughn of Chicago and Williamson of Newark, New Jersey.

While most openers were intentionally simple tools, some were a bit over the top. One such opener was made by Budweiser brewer Anheuser Busch, which commissioned openers with carved bone or mother-of-pearl handles, pocket knives, corkscrews, and Stanhope lenses, which offered the lucky recipient of these rare premiums tiny portraits of Adolphus Busch or his famous St. Louis brewery.

In addition to flat bottle openers, these tools were also made out of formed shapes resembling shoe horns. But perhaps the most common type of bottle openers were those made of s...

After Prohibition was repealed in 1933, brewers began to experiment with packaging their products in cans. Cone-top cans made by Continental Can for Schlitz opened the same way as crown-top bottles, which meant bottle openers could still be used when opening these containers. But flat-topped cans were clearly the wave of the future, which is why bottle openers began to be produced with a piercing triangle at one end, so that beverages in either cans or bottles could be opened with the same tool.

Paralleling the evolution of portable pocket-size bottle openers was the development of stationary bottle openers, which were routinely mounted to the walls of grocery stores where bottles of soda pop were sold. The leading producer of stationary openers was Brown Manufacturing of Newport News, Virginia, which is probably most famous for its Starr “X” Coca-Cola bottle openers, first manufactured in 1929. But Brown made bottle openers for Coca-Cola competitors, too, including Dr Pepper and Pepsi. It also made openers for Budweiser, Schlitz, Miller, and Pabst.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Just For Openers

Just For Openers

This site features photos of beer advertising openers from the early 1900s, organized alphabetically by state. But … [read review or visit site]

Red Fox Chapter

Red Fox Chapter

The guys at the Connecticut Chapter of the Brewery Collectibles Club of America have created a full-on tribute to t… [read review or visit site]

Historic Glass Bottle Identification

Historic Glass Bottle Identification

Bill Lindsey's fantastic bottle identification and information site. Loaded with detailed descriptions and diagrams… [read review or visit site]

Feeding America

Feeding America

This archive of 76 influential American cookbooks from the late 1700s to early 1900s, assembled by the Michigan St… [read review or visit site]

Bottle Cap Index

Bottle Cap Index

Assembled by Gunther Rademacher with the help of several other contributors, this collection of over half a million… [read review or visit site]

Antique Bottle Collector's Haven

Antique Bottle Collector's Haven

There's a ton of information here, but as with bottles, you have to dig to find the best stuff. Start with the famo… [read review or visit site]

Tupper Diva

Tupper Diva

Kristian McManus’ fresh, airtight collection of Tupperware catalogs and related ephemera from the 1950s and 6… [read review or visit site]

Plopsite.de

Plopsite.de

Norbert Lamping's collection of 600+ ceramic bottle stoppers, Hutter stoppers, swingtops, swivel stoppers, and ligh… [read review or visit site]

Bock Beer Labels

Bock Beer Labels

A quick tour of pre-Prohibition bock beer label designs with nice, high resolution scans. Do the whole slide show o… [read review or visit site]

Trappist Beers and Monks

Trappist Beers and Monks

An interesting site dedicated to Trappist beers and the history of the development of beer brewed by Trappist Bened… [read review or visit site]

Old Spice Collectibles

Old Spice Collectibles

Lather up with Creighton Fricek's complete chronology of collectible Old Spice shaving products. Start with the bot… [read review or visit site]



Clubs & Associations

Discussion Forums

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

1940's Wilton Miss Four Eyes Cast Iron Figural Bottle Opener With Original BoxPearl Lager Beer Wall Mount Pop & Beer Bottle Opener1940's Wilton Or John Wright Cast Iron Figural Bulldog Wall Mount Bottle OpenerPre Prohibition Pacific Brewing And Malting Co Beer Bottle Corkscrew Opener #7Pre Prohibition Anheuser Busch Beer Bottle Corkscrew Opener #31940's Hubley Or John Wright Cast Iron Figural Hitchhiking Sailor Bottle OpenerLot Of Four Dif. Calif. & Wash. Brewing 1910-30's Beer Bottle Cap Crown Openers22 Vintage Coca-cola Pepsi Kist Cola Bottle Openers Nesbitts 7up Red Rock CanadaVintage Luxus Beer Bottle Opener Can Punch #12Vintage Dr. Pepper Bottle Opener Starr X Vintage Beer Soda Bottle Opener Lot Of 23Drink Coca Cola Coke Wall Mount Crown Stationary Bottle Opener Cast Iron ~ NewVintage Rock Spring Starr X Wall Mount Bottle Opener & 3 Others Lot No Reserve1930's Signed John Wright Hollow Cast Figural Parrot Form Bottle OpenerHegmoen Brass Abolaone Inlay Fish Bottle Opener Cu 66% Zn 22%Vintage Kessler Brewing Co Helena Mt Formed Beer Bottle Opener G-1-62Pre Prohibition Pabst Beer Bottle Corkscrew Opener #4Pepsi:cola Wall Mount Pop & Beer Bottle Opener1930's Hubley Or John Wright Cast Iron Figural Parrot Form Bottle OpenerVintage Starr Double Cola Wall Mount Bottle Opener With Original Box And Screws 1900s-10s Jamestown Brewing Co Jamestown Ny Key Beer Bottle Opener B-19-51Storck's Beer Bottle Opener - Slinger Brewing Co., Slinger, Wisconsin1940s-50s Blackhawk Brewing Co Davenport Iowa Beer Bottle Opener A-23-1Lot Of Five Dif San Francisco Calif. Brewing 1930's Beer Bottle Cap Wire OpenersLovely Vintage Unusual Cork Grip Patent Corkscrew Bottle Opener1930s Stegmaier Brewing Gold Medal Beer Wilkes-barre Slider Bottle Opener M-3-181930s Cumberland Brew Old Export Beer Cumberland Md Slider Bottle Opener M-3-11Rare 1930's Glennon's Beer Bottle Opener Pittston Pa Brewery 1873-1948 Vintage Wall Mount Jax Beer Bottle OpenerAntique Vintage Style Brass Fireman Fire Fighter Wall Mount Bottle Cap OpenerRare Antique Cast Iron, World's Best Beer Bottle & Can Opener. Pittsburg, Pa.1930s Daeufer Lieberman Brewery Beer Allentown Pa Slider Bottle Opener M-3-4Pre Prohibition Mcavoy Brewing Co Beer Bottle Corkscrew Opener #5Vintage Coca Cola Soda Pop Coke Pop Bottle Opener & Wine Cork Screw Mint Vess Whistle Bottling Orange Soda Porcelain Wall Mount Advertising Bottle OpenerFalstaff Starr-x Wall-mount Bottle OpenerAntique Advertising Beer Bottle Opener Gunds Brewery La Crosse WiEulberg's Beer Portage, Wisconsin Bottle Opener (e-6-75)Pre Prohibition Blatz Beer Bottle Corkscrew Opener #6Vintage Old Utica Club Pilsber Ginger Ale Figural Sexy Nude Woman Bottle OpenerAntique Tap Rite Brass Bottle Opener Ice Breaker Vintage Keeley Beer Bottle Opener Chicago Large Lot Of Vintage Beer Coke Soda Bottle Openers Advertising, Etc69 Vintage Beer Bottle Openers Grain Belt Hamms Pabst, Schlutz, EtcVintage Old Export Beer Bottle Opener Cumberland Brewing CompanyVintage Coca Cola Bottle OpenerCute Beer Bottle Cap Opener Bar Opener, Poker Playing Card Spades Ace OpenerUnited Of Pittsburgh Mercantile Co Beer Bottle Slide Opener20mm Vulcan Cannon Round Bullet Bottle Opener Raw Finish Hand Made In The U.s.a.1930's Hubley? Cast Iron Figural Billy Goat Bottle Opener1912 Charles Franz Brewing Co Freeport Illinois Advertising Beer Bottle OpenerDrink Royal Crown Cola, Wall Mount Cast Iron Bottle Opener, SodaJust For Openers 2010 Convention Bottle Opener1910s The Lion Inc Brewery Wilkes-barre Pa Key Beer Bottle Opener B-18-286Vintage Blatz Bottle Opener - Milwaukee, WisconsinVintage Kingsbury Beer Opener - Manitowoc Products Co., Manitowoc, WisconsinVintage Ortlieb's Premium Lager Beer Bottle OpenerPabst Blue Ribbon Export Flat Top Beer Can Opening Instructions Long Opener3pcs Bottle Opener Key Ring Keyring Keychain Metal Beer Bar Tool Claw Gift Nice8in1 Multifunction Outdoor Gadgets Stainless Steel Bottle Opener Keychain Hot