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    

Coca-cola Long Pine Nebraska Bar Bottle OpenerBottle Opener: Orange Crush Carbonated Beverage Bottle Opener Vintage. Starr"x"Vintage Wm J Lemp Brg Co St Louis Mo Brass Corkscrew Beer Bottle Opener M-25-1Hand Forged Medieval Iron Bottle Opener Novelty GiftVintage Aluminum Barmaid Bottle Opener / Corkscrew C1950s Drinks Made In ItalyDrink Coca-cola Sign Of Good Taste Fishtail Advertising Porcelain Bottle Opener Hand Forged Whale Bottle Opener.Pabst Blue Ribbon Export Beer Red Opener O/i IrtpJack Daniels Coin Bottle Opener Jasper Newton Daniel Old No. 7 Gentleman WhiskeyVintage Falstaff Beer Cast Metal Wall Bottle Opener Starrx Brown Co. Usa MadeVintage Independent Brg. Co., Pittsburgh Pa, Figural Beer Bottle Opener A-38-4(qty - 5 Different) ~ Original Vintage ~ Hand Shaped ~ Spinner Bottle OpenersWilliams Sonoma Skull Bottle Opener Wall Mount With Hardware- NewVintage 1920s Fleck's Beer Faribault Mn Wood Bottle Opener Advertising Display Antique Skull/skelton Cast Iron Wall Mount Beer Bottle Opener Vintage Nehi Beverages Chero-cola Bottling Swimming Lady Mermaid Bottle Opener Krueger Beer Beverages Bottle Cap Opener Newark Nj Rare!Buffalo Brewing Co.beer OpenerRolling Rock Starr X Wall Mount Bottle Opener Antique Grizzley Bear Cast Iron Wall Mount Beer Bottle Opener Antique English / Pit Bull Dog Cast Iron Wall Mount Beer Bottle Opener Rare Labatt Blue Nhl Goaltender Hockey Mask Beer Bottle OpenerVintage South Fork Brewery Beer Bottle Opener Mint PennsylvaniaArt Deco Miniature Bronze Figural Nude Maiden Erotica Bottle Opener Sculpture NrVintage The Victor Brg. Co., Jeannette Pa, Slider Beer Bottle Opener M-3-28Vintage Pabst Blue Ribbon Export Beer Can 2 Original Keglined OpenersRare Design Vintage Nesbitts Soda Pop Wall Mount Bottle OpenerTexas Cast Iron Wall Mount Western Bottle Opener Rustic New Vintage Style Brown1970s Toyota Dealer's Promotional Gift; Toyota Car Key Bottle Cap Lifter/opener.Vintage Lot Of 6 Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer Bottle OpenersVintage Aluminum Iroquois Beer Bottle Opener Indian / Man CaveVintage Brass Coors Beer Bottle OpenerVintage Brass Coca Cola Soda Pop Coke Truck Colonial Knife & Bottle OpenerAntique Coca Cola Soda Pop Metal Coke Germany Pop Bottle Cap Opener NiceVintage Haunted Bottle Opener/corkscrew Tool Chausse's Funeral Home MortuaryGoose Island Chicago Beer Bartenders Bottle Opener Church Key Super Bowl PartyVintage Coca-cola Bottle Opener Cap Catcher Vending Machine Mount Action ForeignCast Iron Black Devil Bottle Opener Nice Look!!!1930s Wayne Brewing Co., Erie Pa, Wire Beer Bottle Opener F-6-32Vintage Brass Naked Nude Lady Women Girl Bottle Opener 8-1/4" Long Stamped "95"Vintage 1917 Keeler Brass Co. Bottle Opener Asian Chinese Men Playing CheckersVintage Solid Brass Kinsey Bottle Opener Muddler Early 1920'sWilton Products Figural Cast Iron Bottle Opener - Mallard Duck - F-106Wilton Products Figural Cast Iron Bottle Opener - Canada Goose - F-105Vintage 1926 Double Cola Metal Wall Mount Bottle OpenerVintage Rare Antique 1920's Kinsey Brass Beer Bottle Opener Muddler Ice Cracker 30+ Piece Lot Of Old Soda And Beer Bottle OpenersKeith's Stout / Ale Cast Iron Bottle Opener2 Vtg Metal Beer Bottle Openers Knapstein Brewing New London Wis & Blatz Milw Wi Jameson Speed Opener Beer Bottle Church Key1950s Iroquois Beverage Corp. Buffalo Ny Figural Indian Beer Bottle Opener R-2-1Vintage Barq's Root Beer Bottle Opener "drink Barq's - It's Good" Cast IronCast Iron Parrot Beer Bottle Opener Tiki Cantina Beach Bar Tender Home Decor New2 Bud Light Nfl New Bottle Opener Lager Style Beer Brewed Anheuser-busch MoCast Iron Mermaid Beer Bottle Opener Tiki Cantina Beach Bar Bartender Decor New Credit Card-sized Stainless Steel Beer Soda Bottle Opener Bar Kitchen ToolSchlitz Brass High Polish Bottle Opener Vintage HeavyLot Of 25 Vintage Beer Bottle & Can Openers - Advertising Beer, Soda, Hotel, EtcVintage Paquin's Ginger Ale Norka Beverage Co. Akron Oh Bottle Opener & SpoonVintage Can & Bottle Opener Marked Leinenkugels Beer Folding Type For Keyring