Coca-Cola was first bottled by the Biedenharn Candy Company in Vicksburg, Mississippi in 1894. The proprietor, Joseph A. Biedenharn, was a customer of The Coca-Cola Company, buying Coca-Cola syrup and serving the soft drink to customers at his soda fountain. He came up with the idea of making Coke available to people who lived in the country and did not have a local soda fountain.
Bottling Coca-Cola was the answer. Cases of Coke could then be sent to into the countryside so more people could enjoy it, and obviously, more sales could be made. Biedenharn’s first customers were plantations and lumber camps along the Mississippi River. He sent a case of bottled Coca-Cola to the owner of The Coca-Cola Company, Asa G. Candler, but at the time, Candler wasn’t interested in getting involved in bottling, but rather, wanted to focus on soda fountain sales.
It wasn’t until 1899 that Candler agreed to sell bottling rights to two young attorneys, Benjamin F. Thomas and Joseph B. Whitehead. They negotiated exclusive rights to Coca-Cola bottling for most of the U.S., with the specific exception of Vicksburg, for one dollar. A third lawyer joined them, and together, they divided the U.S. into territories where they sold bottling rights to other entrepreneurs. By 1909, there were almost 400 bottling plants, most of them family-owned.
The original Coca-Cola bottle was one that Biedenharn was already using to put soda water into with equipment he had bought from Sarasota Springs. His company was already bottling many other beverages using Hutchinson blob-top bottles that were embossed with “Biedenharn Candy Company, Vicksburg, Miss.”. The straight-sided bottles, which were sealed with a rubber disk that changed the soda’s taste after a few days, have become known as Biedenharn bottles.
In the early 1900’s Biedenharn switched to a straight-sided crown bottle, with a traditional cork-lined bottle cap that did not affect the taste of the soft drink. But due to the changeability of the glass color from clear to blue, green or even amber, they lacked a standard look to the product. At the time, everyone was using a straight-sided bottle for their soft drinks, regardless of the brand so there was nothing to set one brand apart from the other. A search of “old Coke bottles” will show a wide variety of shapes, sizes and logo embossing that were used by different bottlers in the early years of Coca-Cola bottling.
The people at The Coca-Cola Company realized there was a need for a new design for their bottles in order to create a more distinctive look and discourage imitators. Ben Thomas, one of the original bottlers of Coke, was quoted as saying, “We need a bottle which a person can recognize as a Coca-Cola bottle when he feels it in the dark.”
A competition to design the best bottle was initiated, and eleven designs were shown to a Coca-Cola committee in Atlanta. A design from the Root Glass Company of Terre Haute, Indiana was approved in 1915. Stories say the design was supposed to be based on the shape of one of the two ingredients of Coke, the coca leaf or the cola nut. These stories claim the designers were unable to find reference for either, so they used the gourd-shaped cocoa pod as a model instead. (The cocoa pod is the source for chocolate, and has nothing to do with the ingredients in Coca-Cola.)
Earl R. Dean of the Root Glass Company had originally created a prototype with a middle that was wider than the base of the bottle. This bottle never went into production because the shape would have made the bottle unstable, causing it to tip over on a conveyor belt. The design was revised and in 1916 the bottle was being used. This was the 6.5-ounce contour bottle, or hobble skirt bottle that Coca-Cola became associated with. It is one of the few packages to be granted a trademark by the U.S. Patent Office (in 1977). These early bottles came in clear, aqua, blue and green.
Starting in 1924, the hobble-skirt bottles only came in green – save for those produced from 1942-1945. Copper was used to produce the green color, and it was in short supply during WWII.
In 1955 additional glass bottle sizes were introduced; the 10-, 12- and 26-ounce sizes. The design of the contour bottle has had small modifications over years, but has remained essentially the same. Although Coca-Cola is now widely distributed in plastic, customers still request Coca-Cola in glass contour bottles.