Q Drinks

Q Drinks

Breakthroughs in bottling

In the last decade of the 19th century, successful soda fountains served hundreds, and sometimes thousands of sodas a day. But they were only whetting America's great thirst.

Two breakthroughs enabled soda to reach far beyond the soda fountain. First, in 1891, William Painter invented the bottle cap. Before this, soda bottles had cork bottle stoppers like wine. This didn't work so well. Cork is not completely airtight, and so allows a soda's carbonation to slowly escape over time. In addition, if a cork gets dry, which happens when a bottle is stored standing upright, the cork shrinks and the pressure causes the bottle to "pop."

Second, in 1899, the US Patent Office issued the first patent for a glass blowing machine to the Libby Glass Company. At the time, glass bottles used for soda, wine, or beer were each hand-blown. This obviously limited the number of bottles that could be put into circulation. But once Michael Owens, an employee of Libby Glass, invented a machine that could automate the process of blowing glass bottles, it became cost-effective to make bottled sodas. And small soda bottlers quickly popped up everywhere. By 1904 Brooklyn had 50 different soda bottlers and by 1920 the U.S. Census counted more than 5,000 different bottlers.

Each bottler had its own special recipes and techniques, closely guarded secrets that made huge differences in the taste of their sodas and were passed on from generation to generation. Aficionados would have endless arguments over which local company made the best ginger ale, the best cola... and as with the best wines, bottlers competed in numerous tasting competitions all across the world.

But quickly, soda became big business. Really big business.

Big Business