The “contour bottle”: a brief history.

From 1899 the Coca Cola was sold in glass bottles. But the shapes were not enjoyable, too similar to others.

So, in 1915, the Coca Cola Company launched a competition in order to find “a bottle which a person could recognize even if they felt it in the dark, and so shaped that, even if broken, a person could tell at a glance what it was.” Designer Earl R. Dean won the competition with a completely revolutionary bottle, called the “contour bottle” within the company but known as the “hobble skirt bottle” (a hobble skirt is a skirt with a narrow enough hem to significantly impede the wearer’s stride, thus earning its name).

His original idea was to create a shape that reminded one of the coke’s ingredients, the coca leaf or the kola nut. Unable to find any information about those two ingredients, Dean was inspired by a picture of the gourd-shaped cocoa pod in Encyclopedia Britannica. He made a sketch and explained his idea to Mr. Root, president of the Root Glass Company of Terre Haute, Indiana, who gave his approval. Dean sckeched out a concept drawing and proceeded to create a bottle mold and produced a small number of bottles in less than 24 hours, because of a pre-scheduled maintenance of the mold-making machinery.

 

A design patent was issued on the prototype bottle in November 1915. The prototype never made it to production since its middle diameter was larger than its base, and so the bottle was unstable on conveyor belts. During 1916, Dean decreased the bottle’s middle diameter. The contour bottle was chosen between other entries and was on the market the same year. By 1920, the contour bottle became the standard of the Coca Cola Company, and today is one of the most recognized packages on the planet, “even in the dark”.

Dean was offered a choice between a 500 Dollars bonus or a lifetime job at the Root Glass Company. He chose the job and kept it until mid-30’s, when the company was bought by the Owens-Illinois Glass Company.

Someone said that the real inventor of the Coca Cola bottle was Raymond Loewy. But, even if he served the Coca Cola Company as a designer of cans and bottles in later years, in 1915 he was in the French Army, and did not emigrate in US until 1919.

By the 30’s, the shape of the bottle substantially did not change in a radical way, and the ones we buy in supermarket nowadays are quite similar to the original one (talking about the glass made bottles).

 

It is easy to see that Dean had a brilliant idea, revolutionary and innovative, something that contributed to make the success of the Coca Cola Company all over the world. A cool glass bottle, easy to handle, perfectly recognizable, reminding a feminine silhouette and shiny between the attempts to imitate it.

In one word: perfection.

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