Curvaceous Design: The History of the Coca-Cola Bottle

Few things are as iconic as a bottle of Coca-Cola. In fact, as early as 1949, a study showed that fewer than one percent of Americans could not identify a bottle of Coke by its shape alone. That is a pretty big flex if you ask me. Today it’s impossible to think of not being able to take bottles or cans of Coca-Cola home with us from the store, but once upon a time Coca-Cola was only available at soda fountains. In 1899 two lawyers set about to change all that and would put into motion the creation of an icon.

Myself, holding a bottle of Coke, while wearing a t-shirt of a girl in a cowgirl hat with a bottle of Coke being handed to her, red script reading "Coca-Cola" across the top. Script across the photo reads "History of the Coca-Cola Bottle"

Joseph Whitehead and Benjamin Thomas were lawyers from Chattanooga, Tennessee, and in 1899 they went to Coca-Cola headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia, to try and get the rights to bottle Coca-Cola, which had, as mentioned earlier, only been available at soda fountains. They successfully signed a contract, and bottling plants sprung up.

These first bottles were simple, straight bottles, of brown or clear glass, with “Coca-Cola” with their swooping script embossed on them. However, other cola companies attempted to dupe consumers with similar names and script, like “Koka-Nola.” Changes were made, and eventually a paper, diamond shaped label was created and applied, however, as the bottles were often sold in barrels of cold water, the labels came off. Plus, Koka-Nola copied the label design too.

On April 26, 1915, trustees of the Coca-Cola Bottling Association voted to put $500 toward creation of a uniquely designed bottle that was “so distinct that you would recognize it by feel in the dark” and “lying broken on the ground.” A pretty tall order! Between eight to ten glass companies in the United States took up the challenge to meet those two unique requirements.

One company was Root Glass Company of Terre Houte, Indiana. Two of their employees, Earl Dean and Clyde Edwards set off to do research to come up with a winning design. In their research they found an illustration of the cocoa bean. Inspired by the bean’s curve and ribs, Dean sketched out what would soon become one of the most recognized icons in America. And while they may not have been thinking of ergonomic design at the time of creation, the bottle is extremely pleasant and quite satisfying to hold.

The patent for Dean’s design was granted on November 16, 1915, but what is especially interesting is that the patent was submitted without the Coca-Cola name on it. This was done to ensure the secrecy of this new and inventive direction by Coca-Cola.

A sheet of white paper with two illustrations, a curved bottle from the side, and another view of it from the top. Text across reads "Design A. Samuelson. Bottle or Similar Article. Applied Filed Aug 18, 1915. 48,160. Patented Nov. 16 1915."

Image Source: Pieces of History

Early the next year, a committee of bottlers and Coca-Cola officials had a meeting to choose a design. Root won, and production shifted to begin manufacturing and bottling the new patented design. In addition to its unique shape, the company chose to colored glass called “German Green” which was later renamed “Georgia Green” after the location of Coke’s headquarters.

Soon, the bottle with its unique and patented design (finally leaving Koka-Nola in the dust) was making its way into the hearts and soon homes of Americans and the world.

Coca-Cola had already been making calendars with attractive young ladies on them for years, and for the 1918 calendar they decided to feature their newly designed bottle. The ad featured two women, one holding the soon to be iconic bottle, while the other held the flared glass that Coke was served in at soda fountains, likely to further connect the bottle with the product as it was at soda fountains.

Two women in 1920s beach attire, one sits holding a bottle of Coke, the other stands holding a parasol, with a glass of Coke. A calendar for January is below.

In 1919 however the glass was gone, with only a woman holding a bottle. Each year the image changed, sometimes a soda fountain glass would be there, sometimes it wouldn’t, but what remained constant was the presence of the uniquely curved and green tinted bottle. The bottle was here to stay.

By the 1920s, home refrigeration was becoming more common, and in 1923 Coca-Cola put six bottles into an easy to carry carton, thus inventing the six-pack. Because one could now easily take home multiple bottles, in 1928 bottle sales surpassed soda fountain sales. Coke would later create larger bottles, known as “King Size,” still in the iconic shape, for consumers to take home.

Probably due to the fact of the 1949 study of nearly 100 percent of Americans being able to identify a bottle of Coke by silhouette alone, the Coca-Cola bottle became the first commercial product to appear on the cover of TIME, on May 15, 1950, proving its incredible impact on the world.

Even though Coca-Cola had toyed with the idea of putting their refreshing bubbly concoction in metal cans before World War II, the idea was shelved due to metal being needed for the war effort. It wasn’t until 1960 that Coke was introduced in a can. However, to ensure consumers knew it was the same product that came in the bottle, the bottle’s image was put onto the can.

Coca-Cola's first can, a small, 12 once red can, with a white diamond with an illustrations of a Coke bottle, and red script across reading "Coca-Cola"

Decades passed, and Coke had to renew their patent, which they did, but soon they decided their bottle was worthy of trademark. It’s not the norm for packaging to receive trademark status, but on April 12, 1961, the Coca-Cola bottle received its trademark, further ensuring its legacy as a true American icon.

You can even catch a glimpse of Coca-Cola’s bottle history at Disneyland in the windows of the Coca-Cola Refreshment Corner on Main Street.

A flared soda fountain glass, next to a straight clear bottle, embossed with "Coca Cola" sit on a shelf above two other bottles, another straight bottle with a longer neck, and a paper diamond label, next to the iconic curved bottle.

Image Courtesy of Dave of Daveland.

Over 100 years later, the Coca-Cola bottle is a staple of Americana, pop art, and consumerism. After all, what other soda can you identify by just its shape alone?

11 Facts About the Coca-Cola Contour Bottle. The Coca-Cola Company.
The History of the Coca-Cola Contour Bottle. The Coca-Cola Company.
Jessiekratz, “The Coca-Cola Bottle: Celebrating 100 years of an American Icon.” Pieces of History. National Archives.

Disclaimer: I am not associated with the Coca-Cola Company in any way. This is not a sponsored post. I wrote this because I think it is a unique piece of history.

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