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]

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]

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]

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]

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]

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]

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    

Drink Coca-cola In Bottles Coke Soda Porcelain Advertising Bottle Opener Sign 1920's Hubley Or John Wright Cast Iron Figural Fish / Brook Trout Bottle Opener1920's Hubley Or Wright Black Americana Cast Iron Figural Bottle OpenerVintage Bottle Opener Liberty Beer Rochester New York Enamel Inlay Slide OutOld Rare 1940s Vintage Pepsi Cola Double Dot ~ Starr X Wall Mount Bottle OpenerVintage Bottle Opener Rainier Beer Kirchner Mante Oakland Calif Baseball Player1920's Hubley Or John Wright Cast Iron Figural Alligator Form Bottle OpenerVintage Bottle Opener Goodyear Aircraft Corp Figural Airplane Shaped Excellent+1920's Hubley Or John Wright Cast Iron Figural Elephant Form Bottle OpenerVintage Bottle Opener Dr Pepper Good For Life 10 2 4 Early Figural Bottle Shaped1930s Gibbons Beer Ring For It Wilkes-barre Penna Bell Bottle Opener M-6-1Graf's Premium Root Beer Elf Logo Porcelain Advertising Bottle Opener Soda AdVintage 1890's Griesedieck Bros. Beer Pre-prohibition Cork Screw Bottle OpenerVintage Cast Metal Crown Cork Bottle Opener "guinness Stout / Bulldog Brand"2 Antique Wood Codd Marble Bottle Openers Simpson & Son Eaglehawk 1900 BendigoVintage Lone Star Beer Bottle Opener Spinner Game You Pay Western Badge Fun!!!!!Early Metal Bottle Shaped Kings Beer Bottle Opener Kings Brewing Brooklyn,nyOld Heidelberg Style New Jersey Nj Harrison Beverage Retractable Bottle OpenerVintage Pearl Beer Starr X Wall Mount Advertising OpenerGreat Eastern Cutlery Usa Made Mint 3.5' Bottle OpenerPre Prohibition Cap Lifter Opener Tacoma Beer Anti-katzenjammer San Francisco4 Eyes Drunk Man Bottle Opener Wall Mount Cast IronVintage Bottle Opener Champagne Velvet Beer Terre Haute Brewing Ind Eagle HeadVintage Bottle Opener Schreiers Beer Sheboygan Wis Edellrau Figural Eagle HeadVtg Antique Donkey Cast Iron, Painted, Bottle Opener, DemocratVintage Lone Star Beer Bottle Opener Spinner Game You Pay Western Badge Fun!!!!!Vintage Demand The Brown Label, Old German Lager" Key Beer Bottle Opener Vintage Bottle Opener Lebanon Billiards Olympia Beer On Tap Figural Spinner NrmtVintage Bottle Opener The Woodsman Philomath Oregon Figural Shpaed Like A WomanVintage Bottle Opener Arrowhead Pale Dry Ginger Ale Figural Arrowhead N-mintVintage Bottle Opener Drink Blatz Private Stock Beer Milwaukee Brass With EnamelVintage Royal Crown Cola Bottle Opener Made In Usa Starr X Wall MountChevrolet Super Service Wall Mount Bottle Opener With Cap Catcher Corvette 3 X Fosters Lager Beer Can & Bottle Openers1910s Arnholt-schaefer Brewing Philadelphia Ornate Handle Bottle Opener M-47-1Vintage Bottle Opener E G Kavanaugh Wholesale Liquors Sacramento California Exc+Vintage Cast Iron Black Americana Sambo Boy & Alligator Bottle OpenerAngry Orchard Bottle Opener1pcs Small Hand Held Bottle Opener Keychain Aluminum Beer Beverage Bottle OpenerVintage Assortment Beer And Ale Bottle Openers Vintage Bottle Opener Blatz Beer Flat Top Can Shaped With Slide Out Opener Exc+Vintage Bottle Opener Green Farley Co Janesville Wisc Mothers Best Flour SpinnerVintage Bottle Opener Key To Rainier Beer Early One In Excellent+ ConditionVintage Bottle Opener West End Brg Co Beer Utica Club Ginger Ale Womans Leg TypeJohn Deere Bottle Opener And Cap Catcher , Complete Bottle Opening ExperienceAnchor Beer / Anchor Beer Vintage Cast Iron Bottle OpenerNew Jagermeister Bartender Beer Bottle Opener Metal W/deer Buck Bar MancaveAntique Brewery Advertising Beer Bottle Opener Red Ribbon Beer Wausau WiBottle Cap Opener For Sodas, Wall Mount, 7-up Logo, Metal, Made In UsaCoca Cola License Plate And Bottle OpenerVintage Cast Metal Crown Cork Bottle Opener "drink Tizer"Vintage Bottle Opener Border Inn Sweet Grass Montana Figural Nude Woman N-mintCirca 1940s Peerless Beer Knife And Corkscrew Opener Combo, Lacrosse, WisconsinVintage Bottle Opener Key To Kloster Brau Extra Pale Beer Walla Walla Brewing WaVintage 1933 Pickwick Ale Beer Bottle Opener Edlund Co. Green Wood HandleFalstaff Brewing B-type Bottle Opener 1Vintage 1950/60's Coke Coca Cola Ice Pick Bottle Opener Beverage Retro KitchenCast Iron Wall Mount Bear Soda Pop Beer Bottle OpenerCoca-cola Key Chain/bottle Opener Lot Crown Royal Bartender Bottle Opener - New