A Brief History of Beverage Containers
|That's awfully nice raspberry cordial, Anne... I didn't know raspberry cordial was so nice.|
|L.M. Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables, 1908|
Diana Barry and Anne Shirley might have mixed up the currant wine and raspberry cordial by mistake. However, there is no mistaking the fact that during the early years of this century, all beverages (both alcholic and non-alcoholic) were packaged in glass bottles. Bottling your own fruit juices and wines was an ancient tradition. Before the relatively recent advent of cans, glass bottles had few historical rivals, except perhaps, terra cotta or pottery.
What we know as a soft drink or carbonated beverage had its origin in the mineral spring water that was popular in many parts of Europe for centuries. It was naturally effervescent or sparkling from the carbon dioxide gas obtained on its journey from underground springs. From the 1500s on, various people attempted to replicate this carbonation process. It was Dr. Joseph Priestly, however, who created the first drinkable man-made glass of soda water in 1767 in Leeds, England.
It was not long before many recognized that flavoured soda water would be possible. Eugéne Roussel, a French immigrant to Philadelphia, created a lemon flavoured soda water in 1838. His great discovery was understanding that flavours could only be added to soda water as syrups. By 1843, other Philadelphians were opening soda-water bottling plants in New York City. It was not until 1850, however, that more flavours (like vanilla, strawberry, raspberry, and pineapple) were developed.
The most famous syrup of all was not to emerge until 1886. John Pemberton, an Atlanta, Georgia pharmacist, developed Coca Cola that year and sold it as a medicine over the counter. Into the Twentieth Century, Coke and other flavoured soda pops were sold at many downtown Soda Fountain Parlours throughout North America. These parlours became cultural fixtures and adolescent hangouts. Bottled pop became a mass industry, with brand name companies producing the syrup and sending out to local bottlers who actually mixed the product. The bottles were refillable with a small deposit charged on them to ensure they would be returned.
At the height of the Great Depression in 1935, a rival to the refillable bottle raised its head. A brewer in Newark, New Jersey developed the first aluminum can. It was not an immediate success due to the financial scarcity of the times. It also didn't fit with the mentality of the Dirty Thirties which demanded reusing and saving resources - not throwing them away.
By the 1950s, the economy was radically different. Sprawling suburbs of new houses with new refrigerators meant that people could keep their pop at home and have it anytime they wished. Soda Fountain Parlours became dinosaurs. Driving cars matured as a national obsession and shopping malls held shelves of convenience styled products. It was not surprising that by 1965, refillable bottles were giving way to aluminum cans. Eager for a larger share of the world market, the major cola companies recognized that the importance of local bottlers could be diminished by using cans. With supermarkets and chain foodstores firmly established by the 1970s, the large companies could ship out cans directly to the customer.
The environment provided the only challenge to the can's rising tide of acceptance. Convenience soon translated into litter problems for state and provincial governments. By the mid 1970s, history had come full circle as legislatures in the US and Canada passed bottle bills to force deposits on soft drink containers. Some even banished the can outright!