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    

Antique Brass W.r Loftus 321 Oxford Street Corkscrew Wine Opener No Reserve"georg Jensen Sterling Silver Bottle Opener/ Corkscrew" No.85 Circa 1935Rare-starr X Delaware Punch Bottle Cap Opener-wall MountUltra Rare-starr X "flight" Oversize Bottle Cap Opener-wall MountThirsty? Just Whistle Orange Soda Erickson Porcelain Advertising Bottle Opener Vintage Advertising Falstaff Beer Bottle Opener Starr X Original Metal BeverageMega Rare Jack Daniel's Starr "x" Bottle Opener "bnib"Unusual Antique Brass Laminate Banded Handle Corkscrew Wine Opener No Reserve1930s Potosi Brewing Wisconsin Potosi Beer Bottle Shaped Bottle Opener A-29-14Dr. Pepper Starr "x" Stationary Wall Soda Bottle Opener Number 1Vintage 1940's Cast Iron Figural Swordfish Bottle Opener Original Paint Rare Figural Pre Pro Kamm & Schellinger Arrow Beer Opener A-34 Mishawaka InAntique Potosi Beer " You Pay" Spinner Beer Bottle Opener--wisconsinLarue Tactical 2008 Las Vegas Shot Show Red Dillo Beverage Entry Tool OpenerAntique Cast Iron Figural Fish Bottle Opener1900s-10s Phoenix Brewery Buffalo Ny Brass Key Beer Bottle Opener B-2-16Deppen Brewing Co.,reading,pa.,bottle Opener,1912Schlitz Vintage Solid Brass Schlitz Beer Bottle Opener/muddler. Kinsey Style.Triple Aaa Root Beer Porcelain Advertising Wall Mount Bottle Opener Soda Cola Old Kist Creamy Style Root Beer Porcelain Advertising Wall Mount Bottle Opener Vintage 1940's John Wright Cast Iron Figural Squirrel Bottle Opener ~ No ReserveVintage~clicquot Club~bottle Opener~sec~ginger Ale SurpriseLarge Jack Daniel's Hard Cola Promotional Bottle Opener Very Rare "bnip"Vintage Antique Anheuser Busch Miniature Bottle Corkscrew--1897 Pat- Beer OpenerThe Fink Brewing Co.,harrisburg,pa.,bottle Opener,1909-1920Silver Top Bottling Works,hanover,pa.,bottle Opener,1890's-1900's1930s Sunset Beer Wallace Idaho You Pay Fish Spinner Bottle Opener A-20-43Vintage Rubal New York Cast Iron English Setter Hunting Dog Bottle OpenerRare Wehle Beer / Ale Figural Fish Spinner Bottle Opener West Haven ConnecticuttFink Brewing Co.,harrisburg,pa.,bottle Opener,1909-1920Vintage "ballarat Bitter" Beer Bottle Opener-hard To Find-3 3/8" Long-very Rare!1930s Rindlisbacher Bros Billiard Parlor Rice Lake Lady Shaped Bottle Opener A-5Gene Simmons Kiss Beer Soda Pop Bottle Opener Wall Mount Rock & Roll Music"footlight Parade" Silverman's Strand Theatre,altoona,pa.,bottle Opener,1910's Vintage Advertising Service Station Eco Tire Meter Air Pump Bell / Bottle OpenerYeti Brick Bottle OpenerVintage Wooden Grain Belt Beer Bottle OpenerHanley Beer 70's Bar Coasters, Opener, Tap HandleHoward's Restaurant,george St.,altoona,pa.,bottle Opener,1910's 1910s Muessel Brewing Silver Edge Brew South Bend In Key Bottle Opener B-19-221Bieke Black Horse Ale & Porter,dawes Brewery,canada,bottle Opener,1930'sSan Antonio Brewing Assn. Pre Pro Beer Bottle Opener B-21 Pearl - TexasRare Vintage Royal Crown Cola Wall Mount Bottle Opener In Original BoxVintage 1950 Coca Cola Soda Pop Wall Brown Co. Bottle Opener & Cap Catcher MintEverson Motor Co. Beer Opener Shoe Brownsville Tx 1912 Cadillac & HupmobileVintage Metal Fuzzy Pig Butt Bottle Opener & Cork Screw Colonial Crafts Pat.pendThe Flint Garage,ford Auto Repairing,flint,mich.,bottle Opener,1910's Jax Beer Wooden Beer Bottle Opener, Excellent Cond.Antique 1930s Eberle Blue Star Beer Bottle Cap Opener Jackson Michigan B-14Rare Antique Vintage Hamilton Foundry Bottle Opener ~ Hamilton, Ohio ~ No WearVintage Downing Solid Brass Bottle Opener And Muddler Collectible Excellent CondCast Iron Mcewans Strong Ale Crown Bottle OpenerSprenger's Red Rose Beer,lancaster,pa.,bottle Opener,1930's Rare! Vintage Coca Cola Japanese "barlow" "the Hand" Bottle Cap Opener Nice!Set Of 5 Vintage Metal Bottle Cap Openers Including Frog Old Car Dog MoreVintage Dubuque Vimalt Health Tonic & Yuncker Figural Bottle Moose Openers Beer1930s Walter Brewing Eau Claire Wisc Vaughan Never-slip Bottle Opener B-24-74Vintage Dr. Pepper Bottle Opener And Knife Tool Key Chain Rare !Shell Oil Gasoline Advertising Beer Soda Pop Wall Mount Bottle OpenerVintage Htf Advertising Coke Bottle Cap Opener Metal Drink Coca-cola Key Chain