The Bottle's the Thing: The Branding Evolution of Soda Pop

A Pepsi-Cola serving tray circa 1940s

My fascination with brand design started with the soda-pop realm. I’d always loved leafing through old magazines and usually paid more attention to the advertising in them than the articles. Because my father had a collection of Life magazines beginning with the first issue in 1936 and continuing through the World War II years, I had ample exposure to plenty of advertising from that era. Soft drink ads were plentiful and even before seeing or owning the actual bottles, I was aware of the label and packaging designs, and how the designs changed from year to year. (When I was a kid, my dad also gave me an old Coca-Cola bottle that helped trigger what ended up being an collecting obsession.) After finding the vintage bottles in the Evanston garage, I set out to find examples of as many design and label variations as I could. In the 1970s, resale, junk, and “antique” stores had plenty of them available for next to nothing, and I grabbed them up at every opportunity. So you can see the original discovery, I’ve put an asterisk (*) by the bottles that were originally part of the “Evanston Garage Find.”

Spending time with these bottles inspired me to be sensitive to the evolution of logo and trademark graphic design. I soon started collecting all sorts of examples of packaging, from Lucky Strike cigarette packs to Campbell’s Soup cans and other mainstream brand name products that showed a clear genesis of evolution. I’m just glad I was able to gobble up the stuff before it was officially identified as collectible. Soon my surroundings looked like an advertising history warehouse. I stopped being a collector and transitioned into a curator. (That’s what I tell myself to justify the compulsion….)

My dad gave me this pre-1916 Coca-Cola bottle, which didn't have its label

A Coca-Cola bottle like the one above but with its paper label still attached. These were used between 1900 and 1916.

Between 1900 and 1916, amber glass bottles were also used

* The first "Hobble Skirt" bottle design launched in 1915

A close-up showing the "Nov 16, 1915" patent date

* The "Dec 25, 1923" patented design, also known as the "Christmas Coke" bottle

Close-up of the embossed 1923 patent date

* This is the bottle design that was used starting in 1937, embossed with patent number "D-105529"

Close-up showing the D-105529

1942 Coke ad showing the D-105529 patent number on the bottle

* This bottle simply has a "U.S. Patent Office" embossment and was introduced in 1957. You could still find these being used into the 1980s.

A 1978 "75th year" commemorative bottle.

My fascination didn’t stop with Coke, but continued on to Coke’s other brands.

Tab was Coke's first attempt at a diet version of its cola flavor. Diet Coke was introduced in 1982 and soon eclipsed Tab's popularity. You can still find Tab in select markets.

Fanta was originally developed by the Germans during WWII as a response to the bottling plants being cut off from official authorized Coca-Cola ingredients. After the war, the Coca-Cola Corporation regained possession of the plants—and the Fanta name. Today, there are 70 different flavors in the Fanta line.

Fresca was another "dietetic" soft drink launched by Coke in 1966. Originally all the company's diet brands contained Sodium Cyclamate until the FDA banned its use in 1969.

Now let’s jump to some of the other soft-drink bottles in the J.J. Sedelmaier Productions, Inc. studio collection….

A 1930s paper label Pepsi-Cola bottle

Late '30s or early '40s bottle

* 1940s bottle

1930s aluminum carrier with 1940s bottles

* 1936 Royal Crown Cola bottle

A 1940s RCC wartime ad

* 1940s Royal Crown Cola bottle

Royal Crown Cola bottle circa 1960s

1930s Nehi bottle

1930s Nehi ad

* 1940s Nehi bottle

1940s Dr. Pepper bottle

* 1940s Dr. Pepper bottle

* Dr. Pepper bottle circa 1950s

* 1940s Squirt bottle with script logo

1940s Squirt ad

* 1940s Squirt bottle with logo in caps

* 1940s Nesbitt's bottle with white label

* Nesbitt's bottle with 1938 black label

* 1940s Hires Root Beer bottle

* 1950s Green River bottle

* 1950s Vernor's ginger ale bottle

1940s Canada Dry ginger ale bottle

1960s Canada Dry root beer bottle. This was found in my grandmother's basement storage.

1920s Cantrell & Cochrane's (C&C) ginger ale bottle. Found in a wall cavity of the Park Central Hotel in NYC during construction in 1982. It had been there since the building was built in the 1920s.

1924 C&C advertisement showing above bottle

The classic Perrier bottle

The classic Orangina bottle

The following beer bottles were all grabbed up at the Stormville (NY) Flea Market one sunny Sunday in 1992.

Prohibition-era Budweiser bottle

1940s Budweiser bottle

1930s Pabst bottle

1940s Pabst Blue Ribbon bottle

1930s Schlitz bottle

1940s Schlitz bottle

1960s Michelob bottle—a Budweiser product

1960s Andeker bottle—Pabst's answer to Michelob

Bottoms up!

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3 COMMENTS

  1. These images brought back a flood of memories. Customers had to pay an extra 5-cent “deposit” on soda bottles in those days, and then return the “empties” to reclaim their deposit. This generated a kind small economy for us kids, as we would scour the neighborhood for empties and then redeem them for cash, which was quickly poured back into the corner store’s coffers with purchases of gum, candy and the latest MAD magazine. Later, as the stock boy at that corner store, one of my duties was to sort and stack the empties (by brand and glass color) so they could returned and reused by the local bottler. Working in a dimly lit storeroom, I came to learn the different brands by the touch of the bottle as much as the label. I can still remember the feel of the rough-surfaced Tab bottles, the swirled surface of a Pepsi, and the rough orange-rind surface of a Nehi. Thanks for a great post.

  2. What a selection – the longevity of the soda companies’ branding is impressive to recount.  Also, those old lables and logos are like ‘designer crack’ :D A great article, thanks for posting!