Are you ready to Par-T?
Today we think of soda, or as we say in these parts pop, as coming in a few standard sizes: 12 oz cans, 20 ounce bottles and 2-liter’s to name a few. But as I’m sure you’re aware, sizes have changed substantially over the last century or so. That’s why this large, quart size bottle from the Brody/Emmons complex (the East Lansing dump) stands out. The first two-liter bottle was produced by Pepsi-Cola in 1970 (http://www.pepsico.com/About/Our-History). In fact the two-liter bottle is the only standard soda bottle in American that comes in a metric serving. With the exception of a few liquor and cleaning bottles this is the largest food related bottle recovered.
The embossed marks “Nehi Bottling Company”, “32 OZ Capacity” provided the first clue in identifying this bottle – it’s from the Nehi Cola Company Par-T-Pak line. Nehi Cola first appeared in 1924 as a addition to the Chero-Cola companies line of products. Nehi Cola offered a wider variety of flavors including orange, grape, root beer, peach and others. Nehi was so successful it outsold Chero-Cola and the company changed its name to Nehi in 1928. In a slightly ironic twist of fate, once the company reformulated Chero-Cola and rebranded it Royal Crown Cola (or RC Cola), the new cola outsold Nehi and the company eventually changed it’s name to Royal Crown (SHA / Wikipedia).
The large bottle Par-T-Pak line included cola, ginger ale, sparkling water/club soda, black cherry, lemon lime, orange, grape, strawberry, root beer, and Tom Collins mixer. The Par-T-Pak line was first introduced by Nehi in 1933 (Lockhart) and was likely offered until the mid 60s. The tag line was “When you celebrate … Enjoy America’s Party Drink!” This size bottle was specifically marketed as drink mixers with the larger size noted as being economical for parties (since it was meant to serve six). It is perhaps not a coincidence that these “party size” bottles went on the market right at the end of Prohibition.
Marketing from the 1950s was pushing the benefits of the bottle size specifically as an alcoholic drink mixer: “There’s extra sparkle at parties whenever Par-T-Pak is served! For Par-T-Pak “mixers” are so sparkling they stir as they pour! No longer do highballs have to be swizzled or stirred!” (Life Magazine March 27th, 1950). This full color advertisement suggests that the bottle we have is likely ginger ale, as it is the only notable dark green bottles. Although our bottle predates these advertisements (the East Lansing dump was used from 1907 to the late 1930s), the bottling coloring and flavor options appeared to have been stable.
It’s easy to focus on alcohol bottles and overlook their best friend – the mixer! Many of the cocktails we know and love today have their origins in pre-prohibition (drinks like the daiquiri, the Manhattan, the martini, or the mojito). The 13 year legal draught caused by prohibition, and the long lasting impact of the Great Depression, certainly put somewhat of damper on American cocktail culture. The introduction of Nehi Par-T-Pak’s in the 1930s fit right in with America’s budget friendly mindset, and the welcome legal re-introduction of alcohol.