In 1915, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office granted a design patent featuring a bottle whose curvaceous shape was intended to be instantly recognizable. No one could have anticipated that one hundred years later, that shape and the patent that started it all would be on display and celebrated at the National Archives – home to the most important records in U.S. history.
On July 8, hundreds gathered at the National Archives – just steps away from the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution of the United States and the Bill of Rights – to recognize the Coca‑Cola bottle design patent and its important role in the company’s history of innovation.
The story of the bottle was brought to life by Coca‑Cola’s Clyde Tuggle, Chief Public Affairs & Communications Officer, and James Sommerville, vice president of Global Design, as well as special guests U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker and U.S. Representative Larry Bucshon of Indiana, whose Congressional District includes the birthplace of the bottle.
The bottle’s path to prominence was an unlikely one. But “the story of Coke has always been a story of unlikelies,” remarked Tuggle.
Like so many of the great American innovations, the bottle emerged out of a relatively simple business necessity. A decade into the 20th century, Coca‑Cola had become so popular that competitors were using sound-alike names and similar logos. Coca‑Cola’s response was to out-design the imitators by developing a way for customers to easily find the real thing at a glance, or even by touch.
Trustees of the Coca‑Cola Bottling Association voted to spend up to $500 to develop a distinctive bottle for the product. The directive issued to designers around the country was to develop a “bottle so distinct that you would recognize if by feel in the dark or lying broken on the ground.” Ultimately, the Root Glass Company of Terre Haute, Ind. won the competition and patented the now-iconic design.
At the patent’s centennial, Congressman Bucshon commented that he was not at all surprised that the winners were from his home state. “Just like innovation is in the fabric of Coca‑Cola, the Hoosier state is known for our innovative ideas and entrepreneurial spirit,” he said.
“Few companies embody the American spirit of ingenuity and commerce like Coca‑Cola,” said Secretary Pritzker, a self-described Coke Zero fan. Secretary Pritzker remarked that the National Archives is the perfect place to celebrate the life of such a storied patent, as the concept of patents was outlined in the Constitution, also on display at the Archives.
The Founding Fathers knew that innovation would always be the key to enterprise and that their new government therefore had an essential role to play in protecting intellectual property.
“Coca‑Cola and its glass bottle are both American icons,” Secretary Pritzker said. “But neither could have risen to prominence without the design patent the bottle received in 1915.”
That system has been largely responsible for the remarkable surge of innovation that has driven the American economy for the past century. Secretary Pritzker shared that earlier this year, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office issued America’s 9 millionth patent.
Coca‑Cola, for its part, has continued to churn out innovations, holding nearly 50,000 trademarks and more than 5,000 patents. Guests of the celebration at the National Archives got to see some of these innovations in person, thanks to a special display curated by Ted Ryan, Coca‑Cola’s director of Heritage Communications, and his team.
Ryan was also on hand for the National Archives July 4th celebration, where he invited revelers to visit the original design patent, on display in the West Rotunda Gallery through the end of the month.
“As the archivist for The Coca‑Cola Company, the National Archives is the pinnacle of my profession, he said, "so I always feel like a kid in a candy story when I’m here!”