Sodapop from Michigan State College

Whether you call it soda, pop or cola, the fizzy beverage has been a staple to the American diet for over a century. The drink was first invented in the early 19th century, and was first bottled in the US in 1835. By 1851, Ginger Ale had been invented in Ireland, and in 1876 the first Root Beer was mass produced in Philadelphia. Dr. Pepper was created in 1885 in Texas, and the following year Coca Cola was invented in Georgia. In 1898, Pepsi was first made, and finally in the 1920’s 7-Up and Nehi were produced. The history of the production of soda is fairly well known, which makes the identification and dating of bottles a fairly straight forward process.

Coca-cola bottle through the years. Image Source -
Coca-cola bottle through the years. Image Source

Early soda bottles are easily identified by their thick glass, which was necessarily so to keep the bottle intact during the carbonation process. Bottles are also either round or have over eight sides. The sharp angles of bottles with six or less sides made them prone to breaking due to the pressurized contents. The tops of early soda bottles were extremely thick and ‘blob’ like. The bottles would be held closed by corks, which can be free or fastened by a swinging wire arm (similar to those found on Ball fruit jars). These were replaced in 1892 by the crown bottle cap, a style which remains popular today on beer bottles. Instead of the neck leading to a large blob of glass, the closure consisted of a larger bulging area which thinned out and bulged again in an upper lip. The metal cap would be pressed against this upper lip and the crown was tightened around it.

The decoration, labeling and color are also important for identification. For example, the Coca Cola bottle is easily recognized by the ‘hobble skirt’ or hourglass like shape with the edges slightly rounded off. It is also embossed with the swirling Coca Cola font. Finally, the bottle is a distinctive light green color, often referred to as ‘Georgia Green’. This is easily discerned from the Nehi brand bottles which are straight, with ‘silk stocking’ embossed pattern up the sides, and capitalized bolded logo. The applied colored labels were introduced in 1934, and were baked directly onto the glass.

Pop bottle frags
Pop bottle frags

During our archaeological excavations at MSU, we have found a number of soda bottles in varying conditions. Some are completely intact, such as this classic embossed Nehi Bottle. The bottle has the silk stocking pattern along the sides, as well as an embossed logo. Since Nehi was quick to start using the applied color labels in he 1930’s, this bottle likely dates between 1924 and 1934. We’ve also found numerous shards of glass. Some of which have the applied color labeling, dating them to post-1934. There is a red Nehi label and a red Pepsi label visible on the fragments. By comparing these against historically dated logos, the style of red on white for both dates between the 1950’s and 1960’s.

Learning about styles of soda bottles and the types of artifacts found at MSU is part of our Campus Archaeology project to create an artifact guide for us to use both in the field and lab. Bottles are only one type of artifact we recover, and a lot of information can be gleaned from them.

Works Cited

SHA Bottle Identification Guide. Electronic Resource:

Author: Katy Meyers Emery

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