Today, soft drinks like Dr Pepper are present in every corner of the world. Virtually any business you enter on a regular basis will offer some sort of soft drink for sale, and as of 2020, the per capita consumption of soft drinks is up to 47.8 liters a year. To understand how the soft drink industry became this world-wide phenomenon, we must understand the factors that abled it to be mass-produced. The biggest instigator of mass production was undoubtedly the Industrial Revolution. The Industrial Revolution can be broken down into two phases during this period: The First Industrial Revolution lasted from 1780-1840, and with it came major innovations such as textiles, steam engines, improvements in iron production, and the invention of machine tools. During this time period, fuel saw a movement away from the use of charcoal in favor of a cheaper, carbon-based fuel that is created by exposing coal to heat with a lack of oxygen. This fuel, coincidentally for us, is known as “coke.” Near the of this first phase, we also see the emergence of steamboats, locomotives, and the electric telegraph.
Our story today starts on the heels of this innovation, during a period known as the Second Industrial Revolution (also sometimes called the “Technological Revolution”), which lasted from 1870 until the beginning of the first World War in 1914. In this second phase of innovation, we saw an expansion of rail lines, widespread sewage systems, electrical power, production lines, and even telephones. And of course, we also see a rise in innovation for the soda industry.
During the first wave of innovation in 1819, Samuel Fahnestock invented the very first soda fountain, which created a larger demand for the bubbly beverage. By 1835, soda waters were being sold in bottles in the US, using corks to seal the bottles. Sealing bottles by hand was slow work, so by 1850 the first bottling machine was invented to both fill and cork the bottles. But using corks with soda posed a problem: the extra pressure caused by the carbonation would cause the corks to keep popping off! Bottlers struggled with different ideas that might solve their fastener problem. They needed something that would hold up to the pressure of carbonation, refrain from leaking, and keep the drink from going flat. By 1873 there were over 50 patents for different types of bottle closures. And machines that might have made the bottling process faster had to be tested with caution because the added pressure caused by carbonation created the possibility for exploding bottles. Filler and corking machines used by dairy manufacturing plants in 1878 could fill multiple bottles at a time, but because of added pressure in sodas and the unreliable fasters, these machines were not yet an option for the soda industry.
Many of the early closures invented were interesting ideas, if not the most effective. One stopper, the Matthews Gravitating Stopper, including a series of magnets to create the seal. Meanwhile, a Codd Stopper was using glass marbles and the pressure from the drink’s own carbonation, and the Hutchinson Stoppers relied on a spring-loaded wire loop and a rubber disk. None of these closures did the job as well as the manufacturers hoped.
In dealing with these issues, it is safe to say that William Painter is our free enterprise hero for the day. William Painter was born in Ireland in 1838 and moved to Baltimore, MD in his twenties to work at a machine shop. In response to the issues with bottling carbonated beverages, Painter invented the crown cork stopper in 1892, founding the Crown Cork and Seal Co. which is still in business today. These crown stoppers were completely leak-proof, but they required a particular bottleneck in order to seal correctly. Painter set to work convincing bottle manufacturers across the state of the efficiency of his new seal and assisted in the design of what would become a standard bottleneck for the industry. Painter’s new stopper, and the standardization of the bottlenecks, led to a string of new improvements for the bottling process. Painter and his company went on to invent a series of bottling machines
starting in 1898 that would aid in the filling and capping of bottles. In addition to his crown stopper, the bottle opener, and bottling machines, Painter created 80 additional patents over his lifetime, including less popular inventions such as a safety seat ejection system for passenger trains and the machine to detect counterfeit currency. By the time he died in 1906, his bottling machines and crown corks were being used in countries all around the world, including Germany, France, Brazil, and Japan. For his ingenuity and contribution to the industry, Mr. Painter was posthumously inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2006.
By the turn of the century, Texas alone had 139 bottling plants for soda, and when Henry Ford released the first moving assembly line in 1914, Painter’s original one-man operated filler and capper had evolved into a much more sophisticated piece of technology. The machines no longer filled one bottle at a time, but as many as six. While they still had human operators, the number of actions the attendant had to perform had decreased significantly. They no longer had to manually place the caps on the bottles or fill the bottles by hand, they simply had to place new bottles in the machine, remove the finished ones and rock them over their shoulder to mix the syrup. By adding the birth of the assembly line, it wasn’t long before soft drink manufacturers followed suit with their first automated bottling line. While the exact date of the first bottling line is unknown, they were definitely present by 1923 when entrepreneur Michael Owens introduced an automated bottling line to the Owens Illinois Bottling Company. From the 1920s forward, bottling lines began moving increasingly faster with growing technology and the growing demand for soft drinks. During this same period, automobiles became widely available for the first time, contributing to what had become the fast-paced world of the soft drink industry.