Preston Root’s earliest Coca-Cola memory is probably not much unlike yours or mine.
“I was at Daytona International Speedway, sitting in the grandstands on a hot afternoon, watching a race with my dad,” Root, 53, recalls. “That was our ballpark.”
He remembers the way the cool, curved glass bottle felt in his hand and, of course, the drink’s delicious and refreshing taste. “A six-and-a-half-ounce Coke, if you’re really thirsty like I was, is two perfect sips,” he said.
Coca-Cola -- and specifically the 100-year-old glass bottle -- is in Root’s blood. His great grandfather, Chapman J. Root, founded the Terre Haute, Indiana-based glass company that patented the iconic package on Nov. 16, 1915 after responding to The Coca-Cola Company's challenge to design a “bottle so distinct that you would recognize if by feel in the dark or lying broken on the ground.”
“The Root Glass Company made mason jars and all sorts of ‘liquid wrappers’ for everything from water to beer,” Preston Root said. “But from then on, our focus was on the Coca-Coca bottle.”
Chapman J. Root acquired several Coca-Cola bottling franchises and, in 1939, formed Associated Coca-Cola Bottlers (the Roots sold the glass company in 1932 to concentrate on bottling). Associated Coca-Cola became the nation's largest independent Coke bottler over the next three decades , with plants located from St. Louis, to the Virgin Islands, to New York. Chapman J. Root’s grandson (and Preston’s father), Chapman S. Root, inherited the family business and relocated to the Daytona Beach area in 1949. The company’s holdings expanded to hotels, radio stations and more.
Preston, however, was too young to fully grasp his Coca-Cola lineage back on that day at the racetrack.
“I was just a boy enjoying a cold drink on a hot day with my dad,” he said.
As Preston got older, he and his five siblings learned more about their connection to Coca-Cola. While in high school, he spent his summers sorting bottles at his family’s bottling plant. “It taught me the value of hard work and gave me a sense of family being around so many great men whose lives were devoted to Coca-Cola,” he recalled.
He got used to being surrounded by all things Coca-Cola -- from stacked cases in the bottling warehouse, to refrigerators filled with Coke bottles (glass, of course) at his family's home, to his dad’s collection of Coke memorabilia.
“Coca-Cola was part of our lives,” Preston said. “We became attached to the brand and what it stood for -- family, close friends and good times.”
In 1982, the Roots sold their ownership interest in Associated Coca-Cola to The Coca-Cola Company. Chapman S. Root died in 1990.
“His decision to sell was an emotional one,” said Preston, who retired recently after a 30-year career in radio broadcasting. “Dad remained devoted to Coca-Cola even afterwards, and he never hesitated to tell us Coke made everything we have or do possible.”
The celebration of the Coke Bottle centennial has given the Root family an opportunity to reflect on its ties to the brand. “We’re all extremely proud to be associated with one of the most important symbols in our country’s history,” Preston said. “It’s fascinating to realize what the bottle has evolved to represent, and to grasp the profound effect it’s had on our culture. The Coca-Cola Company and my great-grandfather saw a path to connect two things -- a shape and a product -- in a way that became a permanent part of the American landscape.”
In February, Preston attended the opening of a special exhibit commemorating the bottle at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta. The exhibit, which wrapped up last month, celebrated the bottle’s imprint on the worlds of art and pop culture with works from artists such as Andy Warhol.
“I’m a design nut, so to see the quote from Raymond Loewy recognizing something my family did a century ago was astonishing,” he said.
The original bottle prototype created by the Root Glass Company was also featured in the High Museum exhibit. Starting this week, it will be on display in a new entranceway to the Root Family wing of the Daytona Arts & Sciences Museum. The story of the patent will serve as the new exhibit’s centerpiece, alongside a solid gold Coca-Cola bottle Chapman S. Root bought at an auction in England 30 years ago and dozens more artifacts and historical documents.
Chapman J. Root (left) and Chapman S. Root
Chapman J. Root (left) and Chapman S. Root
The Root family will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Coca-Cola bottle tonight at an invitation-only reception before opening up the exhibit to the public on Tuesday. Preston and his five siblings will be there to honor both the business their great-grandfather started and the town their family has called home for nearly 70 years.
“My family sat down together – all 33 of us – and discussed how we wanted to mark the milestone,” Preston said. “We all arrived at the same answer: that the Coca-Cola bottle is about community, friendship, family and good times. We are supremely grateful to our ancestors who had the foresight, talent and work ethic to make the bottle happen and then to move into the bottling business and perpetuate not only the Coca-Cola legacy but our family’s legacy. But we feel we owe everything to the Daytona Beach community, so we wanted to find a way to thank them.”
Fans who uses the #rootglass100 hashtag on social media will receive free admission this week to the Daytona Arts & Sciences Museum. The family also plans to make a donation to the Daytona Beach Community Foundation on behalf of the Root Glass Company.
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