In the dark and broken – creating a design icon

In the dark and broken – creating a design icon

Coca-Cola is a brand which has long been associated with Christmas so it seemed like a Coke story would be a good choice for my post today. 

In the dark and broken

“A bottle which a person could recognize even if they felt it in the dark, and so shaped that, even if broken, a person could tell at a glance what it was.” That was the brief that was issued by the Coca-Cola Company when it launched a competition among its bottle suppliers to create a new and distinctive bottle shape in 1915.

At one of the suppliers, the Root Glass Company of Terre Haute, Indiana, Chapman J. Root, president decided to delegate the project to members of his supervisory staff, including the company auditor T. Clyde Edwards, the plant superintendent Alexander Samuelsson, and Earl R. Dean, a bottle designer and the supervisor of the bottle moulding room.

After much thought they came up with the idea of basing the bottle’s design on one of the key ingredients of Coca-Cola. In particular they decided it should be based on either the coca leaf or the kola nut.

There was one slight snag, none of the team knew what either of those ingredients looked like.

So Dean and Edwards decided to go to the Emeline Fairbanks Memorial Library but their search was unsuccessful as neither were unable to find any information about coca or kola.

With time running out Dean found and was inspired by a picture of the gourd-shaped cocoa pod in the Encyclopaedia Britannica. He made a rough sketch of the pod and returned to the plant to show Root and explained to Root how he could transform the shape of the pod into a bottle.

Root liked the idea and gave Dean his approval to further develop the idea

A second complication now faced Dean. There was an upcoming scheduled maintenance of the mould-making machinery, so Dean needed to work at speed.

Over the next 24 hours Dean sketched out a concept drawing which was approved by Root the next morning. Dean then managed to create a bottle mould and produce a small number of the prototype bottles before the glass-moulding machinery was turned off.

A design patent was issued on the bottle in November 1915.

At the 1916 bottlers’ convention, Dean’s “contour” bottle was chosen as the winning design but the prototypes never made it to production.

On the prototypes the middle diameter was larger than the base diameter and this made it unstable as it went down the conveyor belts. Dean resolved this final issue by decreasing the bottle’s middle diameter and the bottle went made it to the market later in 1916.

By 1920, the contour bottle became the standard for the Coca-Cola Company. Today, the contour Coca-Cola bottle remains one of the most recognized packages on the planet…”even in the dark”.

As a reward for his efforts, Dean was offered a choice between a $500 bonus or a lifetime job at the Root Glass Company. He chose the lifetime job and kept it until the Owens-Illinois Glass Company bought out the Root Glass Company in the mid-1930s. 

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