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]

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]

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]

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]

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]

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]

British Beer Labels

British Beer Labels

This pre-1965 collection is organized alphabetically by brand and contains scans of seemingly thousands of beautif… [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]

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]

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]



Clubs & Associations

Discussion Forums

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

1925 Patd. Starr X Miller High Life Wall Beer Bottle Opener-rare Cs13Rare Starr X "coca Cola" Side Mount Bottle Opener #6 Newport News. Va.Vintage Dr. Pepper Bottle Cap OpenerRare Chicago Pneumatic Tool Wine Beer Bottle Opener Cork Puller Corkscrew VtgVintage Coca Cola Wall Mount Bottle Opener With Cap Catch BoxUnused In Box Dixie 45 Beer New Orleans Starr X Wall Mount Bottle Opener2 Vintage Cast Iron Cowboy Bottle Openers Beer Soda Old NoveltyVintage Starr X "acme Beer" Wall Mount Bottle OpenerKa-bar Usa K-barley Bottle Opener Cap Lifter Kitchen Tool Super High Quality NewVintage 1940's Coca Cola With Bottle OpenerVintage Keller & Horting Pure Rye Whiskey Lancaster Pa Corkscrew Bottle OpenerGolden Ribbon Beer Woman Figural Bottle OpenerAsk For Utica Club Pilsner Mermaid Bottle OpenerVintage 1940s Drink Dixie Beer Bottle Opener Key Chain Blue AuthenticPre Pro Utica Club Beer West End Brewery Co Ladies Leg With Show Bottle Opener Mixed Lot Of 100 Plus Vintage Beer Bottle Metal Openers, Rare And Unusual16 1/2 In + 8 1/2 Vintage Articulated Abalone Shell Fish Bottle Opener Lot Of 3Longhorn Steer Cow Bison Head Skull Cast Iron Wall Mount Beer Soda Bottle OpenerPre Pro Beer Opener, Tom Ryan's Consumer Brewing, Syracuse, NyAntique Cast Iron Black Bear Beer Bottle Opener Vintage 3 Screw Wall MountAntique Cast Iron Steer Bull Cow Beer Bottle Opener Vintage 3 Screw Wall MountColonial Pocket Knife Corkscrew Bottle Opener Metz Beer Since 1864Vintage Mid-century Black Americana 4-eyed Wall Mount Cast Iron Bottle OpenerVintage New Old Stock 1925 Starr Stationary Bottle Opener With BoxRare Pre Pro Fitger's Beer Bottle Opener Duluth, MinnesotaGeorg Jensen Denmark Sterling Silver Monogrammed (fk) Bottle Opener; Solid 10697Cast Iron Palm Tree Wall Mounted Beer Bottle Opener Beach Or Tiki Bar Home DecorPespi Bottle OpenerVintage 1940s Hotel Statler Chicago Beer Bottle Opener Lot Of 3 Church Key *rareOld Vintage Coca Cola Ice Pick/bottle Opener. 1930s Northern Brewing Watertown New York Old Style Lager Bottle Opener C-12-169Natty Boh Bottle Opener1930s Vonn Brewing The Beer Of Distinction Detroit Mich Bottle Opener C-13-115Vintage Advertising Baseball Player Bottle Opener 1914 Mission BottleVintage Coca Cola Soda Pop Colonial Coke Truck Knife Bottle Opener Nice!!!May 41 Coca Cola Bottler Neon Sign Free Bottle Openers Brown Star Vendo Mills AdVintage Bottle Opener Lot Coca Cola Strohs Crystal Rock Beer Old Dutch Goebel Rare Pre Pro Gund's Peerless Beer Bottle Opener Lacrosse, WisconsinVintage Finlay Brewing Toledo Ohio Bottle OpenerVtg Souvenir Bottle Opener Corkscrew Great Smoky Mts.'the Loop' Celluloid C1950sVintage Cast Iron Cocacola Wall Or Machine Mount Bottle Opener Starr Antique Cast Iron Black Baby Bear Beer Bottle Opener Vintage 3 Screw Wall MountBud Light Lot - New - Golf Towel, Sun Glasses, Bottle Opener, Cup Koozies Vintage 1960's Unusual Old Coca Cola Soda Pop Bottle Cap Opener & Fip Tab OpenerSolid Cast Iron Whale Beer Cola Soda Pop Bottle OpenerBecker's Uinta Club Beer Wire Bottle Opener - Becker Brewing Co. - Ogden, UtahOld One...marked...cast Iron Wall Hanging 4 Eyes Bottle Opener...no RepairsEarly Utica Cutlery Boot Knife Pocket Knife / Bottle Opener1910s Owl Brand Malt Syrup Fred Burr 114 Eleanor Street Key Bottle Opener B-16-57up Rare Vaughan Chicago Cola Bottle Opener- Wall Mount *never Chip* Usa 1930s Northern Brewing Watertown New York Jefferson Lager Bottle Opener C-12-140Rare Pre Pro Hamm's Beer Theo Hamm Brewing Company Bottle Opener1917 Billy O'herns Tavern Lady In Swimsuit 2 1/2 Cent Token Beer Bottle Opener Vintage Lot Of Bottle OpenersStarr X Bottle Opener Drink Coca Cola Cap Lifter Paint Loss Coke Made In UsaVintage Pearl Beer Bottle Can Opener Drink Pearl Beer Vaughan U.s.a.Guinness Clover / Shamrock Wall Mount Bar Bottle Guiness OpenerBeer And Coke Vintage Bottle Cap OpenersAntique Vintage Brass Horse Bottle Opener 4.5''Vintage Whistle Soda Bottle Opener