Coca-Cola started life as a soda-fountain drink selling for five cents a glass, and the brand’s early management had little or no intention to bottle its product. The beverage was first bottled by Mississippi shop owner Joseph Biedenharn in the mid-1880s, but Coca-Cola president Asa Griggs Candler remained unimpressed. It was only in 1899 that Candler sold the bottling rights to three Tennessee businessmen – Benjamin Thomas, Joseph Whitehead and John Lupton – for the princely sum of $1. The first glass vessels were straight-sided Hutchinson bottles, using a metal stopper first patented by Charles Hutchinson in 1879.
The company soon became a victim of its own success. Despite an experiment with amber-coloured bottles and a diamond-shaped label to help the product stand out, Coca-Cola was under attack from a host of copycat brands. A lack of standardisation across its hundreds of bottling plants was further diminishing efforts to improve brand equity, so in 1915 Coca-Cola opted to swap its straight-sided bottle for a unique design to set it apart from the competition. Enter Indiana’s Root Glass Company, which devised a contoured bottle so distinctive that it could be recognised when broken on the ground or by touch in the dark.
The contoured bottle became Coca-Cola’s key packaging characteristic, but was not fully protected by trademark until 1977. In the intervening decades, the overall shape was incrementally amended, and the original 6.5-ounce contour bottle was joined by 10-, 12- and 26-ounce variants. In 1950, a Coca-Cola bottle became the first commercial product to adorn the cover of Time magazine. By the mid-1950s, bottling technology had advanced to allow the printing of Coca-Cola and Coke branding in white labels rather than by glass lettering on the bottle, as had previously been the case.