Antique Soda & Beer Bottles

Your Information Source For Pre-crown Sodas & Beers


The history of soda and beer bottles follows an evolutionary course.  Although there was a tendency to stick with traditional bottles forms, the styles or shapes of the bottles changed as new  products were introduced, new technologies were invented, or competition was rampant.  For purposes of simplicity, the history of beer and soda bottles will be addressed separately.


Beer was being brewed from ancient times and no doubt it was bottled soon afterwards.

The first records of brewing are about 6,000 years old and refer to the Sumerians.  Sumer was between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, and in the area of Southern Mesopotamia.  An ancient clay tablet engraved with the Sumerian language outlines the steps for making beer.   This table has pictographs that represent barley, baking bread, crumbled bread being put into water and made into mash and then a drink.  The Sumerians perfected this process and are recognized as the first civilized culture to brew beer.  They brewed beer  that they offered to their gods as in a 1800 B.C. hymn to Ninkasi, the goddess of brewing.  The beer was drunk out of jars with a straw to help filter out the sediments and soggy bread that was part of the brew.  

When the Sumerian empire collapsed, the Babylonians became the rulers of Mesopotamia and incorporated the Sumerian culture into their own.  As a result, they acquired the knowledge to brew beer.  The Babylonians brewed at least twenty different types of beer.  The beers were brewed with pure emmer (prehistoric grain type and similar to spelt), pure barley or a mixture of grains.  The Babylonian king Hammurabi enacted a law that established a daily beer ration.  The higher ones rank, the more beer that was rationed.  High priests received two and a half times the ration of a common worker.  The Babylonians also exported beer to Egypt.

The Egyptians soon learned the art of brewing and carried the tradition into the next millennium. They continued to use bread for brewing beer but also added dates to flavor it.  The ancient Egyptians even had a hieroglyph for the word brewer, which illustrates the importance of brewing to the culture.  Ancient Egyptian documents show that beer and bread were part of the daily diet and was consumed by the wealthy and poor.  Beer was an important offering to the gods and was placed in tombs for the afterlife.

With the rise of the Greeks and Romans Empire, beer continued to be brewed, but wine was the drink of preference.  In Rome itself, wine became the drink of the gods and beer was only brewed in areas where wine was difficult to obtain.  To Romans beer was the drink of barbarians.  Tacitus, a Roman historian, wrote about the Teutons, the ancient Germans, and documented "a liquor from barley or other grain" that these people drank.

During these ancient times, brewing beer was a women's job.  In some cultures beer was brewed by priestesses in the temples.  During the Middle Ages this changed when brewing was carried on in monasteries.  It is interesting that monks were able to drink beer  when fasting.  Beer was a drink and not food.  This runs contrary to later beliefs where beer was considered "liquid bread."

When Columbus first arrived in the New World, the American Indians that he met  served him a corn-based beer.  The Aztecs, Incas and Mayans had been brewing such beers for hundreds of years before the arrival of Europeans.

Beer was considered a health drink for most of its history and was an good source of nourishment.  It was often advertised as good for the sick and elderly.  But perhaps it biggest health advantage was that beer was brewed.  At a time when impurities and microbes in water were unknown, beer provided a safer drink as it boiled as part of the brewing process.  Beer drinkers were less susceptible to waterborne diseases and thus healthier.  Over the centuries this trend was noticed but was not understood until pasteurization was understood.

Most beers brewed over the last four hundred years have been made of the following ingredients:

Brewers over the years have substituted other grains for the barley.  These include corn, wheat and rice.

The early brewing centers of modern times were England, Holland and Germany.  English beers had the greatest influence on American consumers at the countries founding and through the mid-Nineteenth century.  Although the first brewing center in the New World was run by the Dutch on Manhattan Island or New Amsterdam.  During the second half of the Seventeenth Century, the Dutch were exporting some beer, but much beer was still imported.  The problem with Manhattan was getting an good supply of water and this problem was not addressed for another 150 years.  Even so, the brews were various ales and beers also common in England.

Starting around 1700, Philadelphia started to emerge as the brewing center of the English Colonies in America.  A good supply of water, the productive farmlands that surrounded Philadelphia, a thirsty population and the skills of the English trained brewers were responsible for this.  Soon Philadelphia beers were exported to all of the English Colonies in America.  George Washington was an ardent fan of Philadelphia porter and ordered quantities of it for consumption at his Mount Vernon home.  The beer bottles of this period were the common black glass bottles that were also used to bottle wine and other spirits.  Starting in the late 1700s, the shapes of beer and beer bottles started to evolve in different directions.  Wine bottles started to be more slender with higher shoulders, while beer bottles tended to be shorter with lower shoulders.  This beer bottle shape was know as the porter shape.  This style remained associated with English beers and remained in use until well after 1900.

During the 1830s, a new style of beer was being brewed in Germany.  The Germans had isolated a strain of yeast that produced a lighter beer.  This yeast was a bottom fermenting yeast (Saccharomyces Uvarum) as opposed to the top fermenting yeasts (Saccharomyces Cerevisiae) used to produce the heavier English style beers.  In 1840, John Wagner smuggled some of this yeast out of Germany and to Philadelphia, where he brewed the first lager beer in America.  The earliest lager beer bottle had a distinctive shape that is called an early lager.  This beer did not find popularity immediately in Philadelphia where the German population was well established, but did become very popular in the Midwest where many of the new German immigrants were settling.  Slowly, lager beers gained in popularity in the older settled areas of the United States, but it took almost thirty years until the German style lager beers usurped the English style beers in these areas.  Lager beers of this period are called the late lager.  By this time the Midwestern Breweries in Saint Louis and Milwaukee had a firm handle on the market and would eventually dominate beer production in the United States.  Around 1875, a new style of beer bottle appeared in the New York area.  This style is the called the champagne beer style and remained popular until well into the Twentieth Century.

Around 1875 beers start to acquire trade marked names.  Prior to this point beers were advertised by their brewer, the type of beer or the region it was from.   Widely advertised types of beer included; lager, ale, brown stout, cream ale, weiss beer and bock.  Regional branding included; Philadelphia Porter and Ale, Saint Louis Lager, Milwaukee Lager, and Poughkeepsie Ale.  Of the branded beers, one of the most enduring is Budweiser (1876), but others include Pabst Blue Ribbon (1882) and Miller High Life (1903).



As compared to beer bottles, soda bottles are a relative newcomer.  Although beer was brewed and bottled in ancient times, the manufacture and bottling of artificial mineral and soda water did not start until the end of the eighteenth century.


Since the ancient times man had used naturally carbonated mineral springs for medicinal purposes.  Early European springs were documented in 77 A.D. by Pliny, the great Roman historian.  Starting in the sixteenth century, early scientists and alchemists tried to unlock the secrets of these springs and their carbonated waters.  If these secrets could be discovered, then artificial waters with the same properties could be produced.


The Reverend Joseph Priestley, the discoverer of oxygen,  is credited with unlocking the secrets of the natural mineral springs.  In 1768, he carbonated a glass of water by pouring the water from one tumbler to another over a vat of fermenting beer at a nearly brewery.  The water absorbed some of the carbon dioxide, a byproduct of fermentation, and thus became effervescent.  During the next couple of years, Priestley perfected the process and in 1772 published the first book on how to produce artificial Pyrmont water, a popular mineral water of the time.  The book, Directions For Impregnating Water With Fixed Air, served as a basis for the manufacture of artificial soda and mineral waters that is still in use today.


In 1770 or 1771, a Swedish chemist named Torbern Bergman, expounded on Priestley's work and created an apparatus for making artificial mineral water. This apparatus used chalk and acid to produce the carbonic gas and charge the water.  Bergman also analyzed the popular mineral waters of the day and discovered the minerals that where in them.  Bergman added these minerals to the water before impregnating the water with the gas to produce a facsimile of the natural waters.


Both Priestley's and Bergman's processes could not sustain a viable business.  It took Jacob Schweppe, a German born Swiss jeweler, to perfect the process of making artificial mineral waters in 1783.  He partnered with Nicholas Paul, an engineer, and M. A. Gosse, a scientist, to produce artificial mineral waters in Geneva, Switzerland in 1790.  Prior to this partnership, they were his competitors.  Later Schweppe would continue the business alone.  Due to the popularity of his waters in England, Schweppe he brought the his process to London in 1792.  Over 200 years later the Schweppe name is still with us.


In Great Britain, the production of artificially carbonated waters exploded.  Patents were issued in 1807 to Henry Thompson of Tottenham, England and in 1809 and 1814 to William Hamilton of Dublin, Ireland for processes of manufacturing these artificial waters.  


In the United States, Valentine Seaman of New York City discovered a process to make artificial waters resembling those of Saratoga, a popular mineral spring of that time, in 1793.  As early as 1806, Benjamin Silliman of New Haven, Connecticut was experimenting with impregnating gas in water and did bottling to a limited extent.  Silliman, a professor at Yale, had spent four years in Philadelphia and England learning chemistry and geology and undoubtedly was exposed to these waters at either of these locations.  In 1807 Cohen & Hawkins began to manufacture artificial mineral and soda waters on Chestnut Street in Philadelphia.  Joseph Hawkins was an Englishman that received a patent for an improvement to the Schweppe's process.  They tried to establish a company called the "Philadelphia Mineral Water Association" but failed in the scheme.  Cohen carried on the business at various locations during the next few years.  In 1807 Towsend Speakman, also of Philadelphia, began making and selling a fruit flavored carbonated drink that he called "Neophyte Julep."  He bottled the waters for Dr. Philip Physick, who sold them to his patients for $1.50 a month for one glass a day.  In 1808, A. Thaddeus Sherman set up a soda fountain in New Haven under the direction of Benjamin Silliman.  In 1809, Joseph Hawkins, now of the firm of Shaw & Hawkins, received the first American patent for producing artificial mineral waters. The first United States patent for mineral water apparatus was issued to Simons and Rundell or Riondel  of Charleston, South Carolina in 1810.


Although soda was bottled in the early days, those containers were doubtlessly unmarked, at least in America.  The English had adopted an egg shaped or torpedo bottle to their artificial mineral waters.  This shape is credited to Nicholas Paul, who was an original partner with Jacob Schweppe, but round based bottles were used to German Spa waters nearly a century prior to Paul's credit.  The rounded shape would not stand up and thus kept the cork wet at all times.  A dry cork would shrink and allow the charged gas in the water to escape.  This style of bottle is mentioned in various early English patents.  The earliest of these bottles were made of stoneware, but later glass was used.


In the United States, there were early attempts to bottle artificial mineral waters in marked containers.  Perhaps the first was Elias Durand of Philadelphia, who produced a marked bottle in 1835 and another perhaps earlier.  However, it was a French immigrant, Eugene Roussel, who started the bottled soda water craze.


Roussel came to Philadelphia from France in 1838 and immediately set up a perfume shop on Chestnut Street.  At this location he served and bottled mineral waters.  He is credited with producing the first flavored soda waters in this country, but I have seen evidence that most soda water fountains of that day added flavors to their product.  Roussel improvement was using a prepared syrup instead of fruit juices as flavoring.  Roussel claimed to provide his artificially charged waters on the French plan.  At this time, he also introduced a new bottle for his product, this form is called the early pontil shape soda.


What ever his secret was, his bottled soda waters took off.  Just to give you an idea of the magnitude of this craze, in late 1842, Henry Seybert reopened the Dyottville Glass Works, in the Kensington section of Philadelphia, primarily to make bottles for Roussel.  Bottles produced at the newly reopened factory were of a different color and shape than the previously ones, which are attributed to South Jersey manufacture.  The new shape is called the late pontil shape.  By 1843, William Heiss, John Diehl, Peter Hall, Dr. F. W. Hartley, E. McIntire, and David Bentley & Son were all competing with Roussel.  Heiss and Bentley were coppersmiths who also produced mineral water fountains.  In the spring of that same year, three bottled soda water businesses were opened in one week by Philadelphia area natives in New York City.  They were Adam W. Rapp, John Tweddle Jr., and Thomas W. Newton.  Rapp advertised prepared soda and mineral water with a variety of syrups put up "in Glass Bottles"  and was listed as a teacher and confectioner prior to leaving Philadelphia.  Henry B. Rapp, a relative, was listed as an agent for the Dyottville Glass Works in 1844.  Tweddle was the son of John Tweddle, who was an long established brewer and soda bottler in Chester County, just out side of Philadelphia.   Thomas W. Newton was listed as a plumber in Philadelphia prior to moving to New York during 1843.


By 1845, Roussel was advertising about all of his imitators and how he was forced to change the color and style of his bottles so that the public would easily recognize his product.  It was in this year that the soda shape was created.  It was also at this time that Roussel first used cobalt glass for his soda water bottles and collectors today thank him.  Soon everyone was using the soda shape and blue bottles.  By 1847 there we at least nine competitors to Roussel in Philadelphia and by 1850, there were twenty.  


During the ensuing decades, the soda water industry became firmly rooted.  Starting in 1851, with the introduction of "ginger ale," named products start to emerge and are later franchised.  During the 1880s, we have Coca-Cola (1886), Moxie (1885), and Dr. Pepper (1885) arrive on the scene.  Other named products include Pepsi-Cola (1898) and Hires Root Beer (1876).