I grew up drinking Orange Crush and hearing my mom tell stories of how it used to come in brown bottles, supposedly to protect the flavor. But by the time I was a kid, those days were long gone, and Crush’s bottles were clear. I was also aware that Orange Crush was made in my hometown, Evanston, Illinois—or at least it had a plant in town.
One day when I was about 12 years old, I was riding my Schwinn Sting-Ray down Asbury Avenue, and I noticed that a house in the neighborhood was being demolished. I pulled over by the garage (which looked like it was about to fall over on its own) and looked through one of the windows. There was no car and nothing much interesting to look at, except for four or five open cardboard boxes. I walked in to get a better look. The boxes were filled with pop bottles, and my first thought was to take them to the grocery store for the two-cent deposits. But as I looked closer, I noticed that these bottles didn’t look like the ones I was used to seeing. Here were brown Orange Crush bottles just like my mom had told me about. These were old! I had leafed through enough old issues of Life and The Saturday Evening Post to know that the majority of the bottles appeared to be from the 1930s and ’40s. I asked one of the guys responsible for the demolition if I could have the bottles. “If you can cart ‘em outta there, you can have ‘em,” he told me. “We were gonna dump’em.” (Lot’s of em’s.) Besides the Crush bottles, there were Royal Crown Cola, Nesbitt, 7Up, Pepsi, Squirt, Nehi, Vernor’s, Hires, Green River, Canada Dry, Dr. Pepper, and, of course, Coke.
This piece concentrates specifically on the Orange Crush bottles. The first 11 bottles in the photos below came from the garage. The others I’ve picked up through the years.
Like many early soft-drink beverages, Orange Crush was created by a chemist, Neil C. Ward, and was originally called “Ward’s Orange Crush”. When Ward cofounded the company in 1911 with Clayton J. Howell, actual orange pulp was part of the original formula. (It was used through to 1930 but eventually dropped from the mixture.) The Dr. Pepper/Snapple Group now owns the Crush line of beverages.
Evanston, Illinois, served as one of Crush International’s headquarters in the 1960s. I often rode my bike past the building, which was in the west of the city, in an industrial area on Main Street. One day I decided to go inside. The first thing I saw was a couple of vintage advertisements on the wall. I took a closer look and realized that they were original illustrations done in an orange-black, two-tone technique. I recognized the artist’s name immediately—Norman Rockwell. They were from the same period as his early Saturday Evening Post cover illustrations. I’ve often wondered who was lucky enough to take possession of those after the company relocated. Evidently, the Crush work (there were flavors in addition to orange) was the only advertising commission that Rockwell ever signed a contract for.
Here are the bottles. . .
My next post will be a piece on the other bottles I discovered in the Evanston garage cache, and the influence this collection has had on my interest in design evolution.