The Iconic Coke Bottle Shape Created in Indiana Was Based on a Misunderstanding
It's one of the most iconic packages ever created. One whose Indiana designers modeled after an ingredient they thought was part of the recipe for the product it was designed to hold.
The History of the Coca-Cola Bottle
You don't even have to be looking at a Coke bottle to describe its shape. All someone has to say is the word, "Coke," and you can instantly see its hourglass-like shape with its flared top and bottom book-ending its more slender midsection in your mind. That's exactly what the owners of Coca-Cola were hoping for when they commissioned several glass makers to design and create a bottle for their wildly popular product. According to the Coca-Cola Company website, they were looking for a “bottle so distinct that you would recognize if by feel in the dark or lying broken on the ground." I'd say they got what they wanted even if the design was based on what turned out to be a happy accident.
Not long after its creation in the late 1800s, Coca-Cola was one of the more popular soft drinks. Back then, the only way to enjoy it was from a soda fountain at a restaurant or diner. Seeing an opportunity to increase their business, the owners of the company wanted to come up with a way for the public to enjoy it at home. This meant creating a bottle to store it in that could be sold outside of restaurants. After franchising the rights to bottle the product to different companies in the region, the first bottles were pretty standard looking and despite the company creating a logo for the bottles, many competing companies began to mimic the design hoping consumers would buy their product thinking it was Coke. Because of this, it was decided that Coca-Cola needed its own distinctive bottle that stood out amongst the crowd. In 1915, the trustees of the company voted to "expend up to $500" (just over $14,300 in today's money) to the glassmaker who created the winning design. Between eight and ten companies accepted the challenge and went to work. One of which was the Root Glass Company in Terre Haute which came up with the design still in use to this day, even though the inspiration behind it was a little faulty.
The designers based their concept around the "curves and grooves of the gourd-shaped cocoa bean" because they thought cocoa was one of the ingredients in the cola presumably thanks to the word, "Coca" in the name. Spoiler alert, it's not.
Obviously, that didn't matter and the company trustees voted to make the design the official packaging for their product. After the patent for the design ran out in 1951, the company applied to have the bottle trademarked which was a rare occurrence at the time. In April of 1961, it was granted trademark status based on a study done in 1949 showing the design had become so synonymous with the company, that "less than 1% of Americans could not identify the bottle of Coke by shape alone."
The design has remained largely unchanged since its inception, even as the company turned to plastic bottles over glass. Even two-liter bottles feature the iconic shape thanks to a bottle-making company right here in Indiana that made an incorrect assumption.
[Source: The Coca-Cola Company]