The fascinating story behind the iconic Coke bottle

1915 coca cola bottleThe Coca-Cola CompanyThe prototype of the 1915 contest-winning Coke bottle.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the iconic Coca-Cola bottle, packaging that is just as recognisable as the logo or product itself.

In new book, “Design to Grow: How Coca-Cola Learned to Combine Scale and Agility (and How You Can Too),” Coca-Cola VP of innovation and entrepreneurship David Butler and co-author Linda Tischler designate the uniquely contoured bottle to be one of seven marketing strategies that allowed The Coca-Cola Company to scale into a global behemoth.

When the Georgia businessman Asa Griggs Candler became the majority shareholder of Coca-Cola in 1888, two years after its invention, he set his sights on making Coke the nation’s most popular cola through marketing and partnerships with regional bottlers.

But by 1915, Candler was losing market share to hundreds of competitors. He launched a national contest for a new bottle design that would signal to consumers that Coke was a premium product that couldn’t be confused with some other brown cola in an identical glass bottle.

The new bottle had to be able to be mass produced using existing equipment yet also be distinct.

The Root Glass Company in Indiana decided to enter the contest and base its design off the product’s name. While combing through the dictionary for the word “coca” and words like it, Butler writes, mould shop supervisor Earl R. Dean came across an illustration for the cocoa plant that caught his attention.

Coca-Cola had nothing to do with cocoa, but the cocoa pod had a strange but appealing shape. He and his team got to work and were declared the contest winners the next year.

Coca-cola bottle cocoa plantMedicaster/Wikimedia Commons; The Coca-Cola CompanyThe cocoa pod inspired the Coke bottle design.

“By 1920, the contour bottle, as it’s been called, had become the company’s most celebrated artifact,” Butler and Tischler write.

Over the past century, Coca-Cola has played with the shape and size of the bottle, and focused production on more easily manufactured and recycled versions.

“That bottle has become one of the most recognised objects of the twentieth century, in more than two hundred countries,” the authors write.

You can see a slideshow of the bottle’s evolution at Coca-Cola’s website.

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