Terre Haute, Indiana, is the birthplace of the Coca-Cola contour bottle.

And if you didn't know that until now, there’s a community movement here that wants to make sure you do — and that anyone who ever passes through town knows, too.

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When you work at The Coca-Cola Company, the history of the iconic bottle is one you assume you know well, especially right after said company spent a year celebrating the bottle’s 100th birthday. The Coca-Cola contour bottle was created by the Root Glass Company in Terre Haute, Indiana, in 1915. Nice and neat.

I’m being glib, of course; there’s much more to the story and it genuinely is fascinating, but the point is: I’m not sure I had ever considered Terre Haute in the context of a living, breathing city until today. In my head, as far as Terre Haute and its ties to Coca-Cola go, it was all was filed neatly away into a box labeled "history."

And that was my mistake.

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Terre Haute, Indiana, the birthplace of the Coca-Cola contour bottle, is very proud of its history. Our JourneyxJourney caravan rolled into town on a beautiful September afternoon and pulled up at the Vigo County Historical Museum, a significant part of which is dedicated to an exhibit on the Coca-Cola bottle. There had never been any question of whether we would drop by the city or not; we were going on a road trip to tell Coca-Cola stories, so of course we had to make a stop in Terre Haute. “Oh yeah, you have to do Terre Haute,” coworkers would agree, before we’d all move on to talking about other destinations.

We’d planned to meet members of the Vigo County Historical Society in person, briefly retell the contour story, hear about plans for a new museum, and maybe give it a fresh little play on social media after the previous year’s all-out celebrations. One nice, neat check in the "history" box. 

I don’t think we fully anticipated how much the Terre Haute community is working passionately to connect its history with its future.

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JXJTerreHaute

Terre Haute, Indiana, the birthplace of the Coca-Cola contour bottle, has big plans for the future.

The beautiful Victorian building currently housing the museum is out of space — historic items are now stashed wherever the society can find room to store them. So the Vigo County Historical Museum will soon be found in a new, much larger location downtown. And the new spot will offer much more than just the increased square footage.

“You’re going to expect a new experience,” explains Susan Tingley, director of development at the Vigo County Historical Society, “because it’s going to be a 21st century museum.”

Tingley is walking us through their plans for the space. There will be updated technology and regularly changing exhibits, for one, as well as a refreshed exhibit celebrating the Root Glass Bottle and the story of how it was designed. Outside on the east wall of the building, which currently stretches for 150 feet in plain white brick, there will be a mural of a Coke bottle so large that they hope to set a world record. And immediately back inside, before you even get much past the front door, there will be a 1950s-style soda fountain, which people can visit without even paying admission to the museum.

“You can come in and enjoy the ‘pause that refreshes’ and get a soda, some ice cream — it’ll be a fun place to go,” Tingley says. “It’ll be a destination in and of itself.”

And if the historical society’s plans sound big, their hoped-for audience is even bigger.

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JXJTerreHaute

Terre Haute, Indiana, the birthplace of the Coca-Cola contour bottle, has a local story with global reach.

“For Terre Haute,” Tingley tells us, “to have something that was actually designed here, and something so iconic as the Coke bottle — I mean, it’s a package that’s recognized around the world!”

She tells us about international students who come by on tours and who always stop at the showcase of bottles from around the world, all with different languages on them. She talks about the importance of the bottle’s story.

“We have other stories to tell besides the Coke bottle, but that’s the one that has the broadest reach," she explains. "People all over the world are interested in Coca-Cola and Coca-Cola products, and in particular the bottle… so we want people to come enjoy that, come learn the story.”

The hope, ultimately, is to leverage this story and this worldwide interest to bring Terre Haute further into the public consciousness, while also strengthening the local community’s sense of pride and identity.

'We have other stories to tell besides the Coke bottle, but that’s the one that has the broadest reach. People all over the world are interested in Coca-Cola and Coca-Cola products, and in particular the bottle… so we want people to come enjoy that, come learn the story.'  

We meet with Teresa Exline, who is on the board of directors at the Historical Society and who is helping to lead these efforts. Exline talks to us about the work being done to deepen the city’s brand as the bottle’s birthplace, which includes plans for new signage on the way into town, new pieces of public art, and multiple murals throughout the downtown area. The intended impact of this branding is threefold, she tells us.

“What we’re trying to do is attract visitors to Terre Haute," she says. "We’re also trying to get the community of Terre Haute to understand what a phenomenal piece of history this is that occurred in our community, and take pride in that. And we hope eventually that it will have some kind of economic impact.”

The new museum, of course, will be a key part of growing both visitors and the local economy (as it’s not the only attraction refreshing Terre Haute’s downtown into a vibrant, walkable destination). But when it comes to nurturing community identity, the plans stretch even further.

In addition to the increased signage and branding, “We have some fun stuff planned, too,” Exline tells us. “We want to have a ‘culinary crawl,’ where people can come and experience Coca-Cola as an ingredient in various recipes that local restaurants have concocted. We want to have a fun run. Lastly, we want to encourage our youth to consider design as a career, and to understand how significant this design was, that it’s still around 100 years later… so we want to have a design competition for the students in the area.”

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Terre Haute, Indiana — well, you know. And soon, hopefully, so will everyone else.

“I think people are very proud of this history,” says Exline. “We can celebrate and showcase this piece of history that no one else can claim. It’s history that’s very much specific to Terre Haute.

“We hope that no one will leave Terre Haute without knowing that Terre Haute is the birthplace of the Coca-Cola bottle.”

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The Vigo County Historical Society's Susan Tingley, left, with Emily Bucherati and Meagan Priselac from #JourneyxJourney.