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Coke bottle owes its famous green hue to Putnam County

Monday, November 21, 2011

Sandstone quarried at the Root Glass Co. (above) quarry operation at Fern Cliffs in Putnam County, west of Greencastle, produced the greenish hue to the original Coke bottle that has continued to this day. The original contour Coca-Cola bottle (right), as designed in 1915.
Things go better with Coke. It's the Real Thing. And Coke is it.

From Calcutta to Cloverdale and Indiana to Istanbul, Coca-Cola is known the world over because of its familiar red script logo, its ingeniously endearing TV and print advertising, and of course, its distinctive green glass bottle.

Yet, Coca-Cola with some of the world's most recognizable logos, colors and marketing, owes a portion of that instant recognition to good, old Putnam County.

A celebration Monday afternoon in downtown Terre Haute will mark the contributions of Root Glass Co., which once had an operation in Putnam County, to Coca-Cola's success as the soft drink giant celebrates 125th anniversary.

Coca-Cola intends to thank the people of Terre Haute and the Wabash Valley for their part in achieving that 125-year milestone, but more specifically for creating the distinctive contour bottle that has been a Coca-Cola staple since 1915.

While the shape of the bottle is an interesting tale all its own, it is the green hue that can trace its roots to Fern Cliffs west of Greencastle in Madison Township.

The reason for the original Coke bottle's green hue has nothing to do with product planning. Apparently, the coloration was simply the result of minerals present in sand from Putnam County.

According to John Baughman's historical Putnam County volume, "Our Past, Their Present," the Root Glass Co. bought 160 acres in the Fern Cliffs area in the early 1900s to use the sandstone of the local cliffs for glass making.

Root built a plant on site (reportedly, the foundation is still there) at the foot of the sandstone cliffs (once covered by ferns, the story goes). That plant site was serviced by the spur of a nearby railroad, which shipped the washed sand product to Terre Haute to be melted and made into bottles.

Yes, Coke bottles.

And that includes the original bottle whose design and color are actually registered trademarks.

"Miraculously," Baughman notes in his book (available at the Putnam County Museum) "something in the Fern Cliffs sand provided a greenish tinge to glass."

In its heyday, the Fern Cliffs quarry reportedly operated day and night, winter and summer. For about a 10-year period, the Root Co. took some 20,000 tons of sandstone a year out of the Putnam County site.

Incidentally, the existence of Fern Cliffs has been traced backed nearly 200 million years with the geological formations there said to once be the shore of an inland sea. It was also known to have been the home of a Shawnee Indian tribe in the 1800s.

Meanwhile, the Coke bottle's shape owes its origins to a 1915 contest the company sponsored among its suppliers to create a bottle that looked like nothing else on the market.

With other companies beginning to mimic Coca-Cola's product, the company sought a distinctive bottle it could trademark to protect its brand identity.

Coca-Cola wanted a container that a person could recognize even by touch in the dark, and one shaped in such a way that even if broken, a person could tell at a glance what it was.

The bottle itself was created by Root designer Earl R. Dean. He and his team decided to base their design on one of two ingredients in the soda -- the coca leaf or the kola nut -- and were inspired by an encyclopedia picture of the gourd-shaped cocoa pod.

As a reward for his efforts, Dean was offered a choice between a $500 bonus or a lifetime job at Root Glass Co. He chose the lifetime job and kept it until the Owens-Illinois Glass Co. bought out Root Glass in the mid-1930s. But by 1920, the contour bottle became the standard for the Coca-Cola Co.

When Coca-Cola then began making bottles in other cities, it couldn't duplicate the greenish hue without adding artificial coloring to replicate the original Fern Cliffs/Terre Haute effect.

Monday's celebration in Terre Haute not only marks the 125th anniversary of Coca-Cola but the 96th year of its stylish bottle, a symbol known around the world and across the street.

"It's nice for a smaller community like us to be able to lay claim to something like that," a Terre Haute Visitors Bureau spokesman said as he awaited a Coke bottle display to be dedicated for Monday's event.

Putnam County and Fern Cliffs will drink to that -- with a Coke, of course.

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Calcutta to Cloverdale but Indiana to Istanbul?

Istanbul is a City in Turkey. Indiana to Turkey

is better.

-- Posted by Foxridge on Mon, Nov 21, 2011, at 9:53 AM

But it doesn't sound as good. I really enjoy the things Eric Bernsee writes. There is a lot of interesting history to Putnam County.

-- Posted by conffool on Mon, Nov 21, 2011, at 12:10 PM

But Indiana to Istanbul is more alliterative.

-- Posted by mickhamblen on Mon, Nov 21, 2011, at 3:10 PM

What an interesting article ! I love these historical bits of information about the Putnam County area. Thank you for a great story and photo.

-- Posted by MLHazelrigg on Mon, Nov 21, 2011, at 10:48 PM

Can anyone identify any of the workers in the picture??

-- Posted by Jclody on Wed, Nov 23, 2011, at 7:31 AM

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