Soft Drinks are beverages which contain very small amounts of alcohol or none at all. The main component of such drinks is water with the addition of natural or artificial flavours and colourings. Mineral waters and warm brews such as tea, coffee and chocolate are also considered as soft drinks. Ever since the dawn of civilisation, people have experimented with fruits, flowers, herbs, spices and other consumables such as honey, in order to create refreshing drinks and tonics. The Medieval period brought an influx of such concoctions from the Middle East. These beverages were often referred to as syrups, a term deriving from Arabic. Sugar was introduced in the Mediterranean from India and Southeast Asia in the 13th century. People realised that adding sugar crystals improved the taste of most drinks and preserved them for much longer. This soon led Sicily and Cyprus to becoming important centres for its production.
Soft Drinks in the Medieval Era became popular tonics for improving one's health - The introduction of Sugar to the Mediterranean in the 13th Century greatly impacted the taste and longevity of non-alcoholic Drinks
The first marketed soft drinks appeared in the 17th century as a mixture of water, lemon juice and honey, produced by the Compagnie des Limonades in Paris after its foundation in 1676. An odd century later, in 1767, an English scientist by the name of Joseph Priestley discovered a method of infusing water with carbon dioxide (Co2) to replicate naturally carbonated waters. Other chemists soon developed improved methods and equipment for the production of carbonated water over the next decades.
Joseph Priestly discovered a method of infusing Water with Carbon Dioxide (Co2)
Another Englishman, John Mervin Nooth pioneered the creation of an apparatus for commercial use in pharmacies, while a compatriot apothecary, Thomas Henry, became the first to sell artificial mineral water to the public for medicinal purposes.1 Torbern Bergman, a Swedishchemist came up with a method for large-scale production of carbonated water, leading Johann Jacob Schweppe, a German-Swiss entrepreneur to develop a process for the bottling of carbonated mineral water. In 1783, Johann established the world's first carbonated water company in Geneva styled as Schweppes Co., relocating his business to London in 1792. In the meantime, another Swedish chemist, Jons Jacob Berzelius, started infusing carbonated water with flavours by the addition of fruit, spices and other such ingredients, inspiring pharmacists selling water to follow suit. The term 'Soda Water' was coined in 1798.
Thomas Henry - Tobern Olof Bergman - Johann Jacob Schweppe - Jons Jacob Berzelius
The early 19th century brought about the first fermented drinks made using carbonated water. By the 1830s carbonated lemonade had become widely available at British refreshment stalls and in the 1840s there were more than fifty soft drink manufacturers in London alone. In America, the first soda waters were bottled in 1835, while Ginger Ale was created in Ireland in 1851. Another invention came about as an indirect result of Britain's quest for empire in the second half of the 19th century. The Empire's expansion in Africa and India, and the widespread presence of malaria in such continents led servicemen to mix quinine powder2 with soda and sugar, to make it less bitter. Hence the creation of the first so-called tonic water, which soon started being mixed in with alcoholic beverages such as gin.
British Servicemen in India mixed their Quinine Powder with Gin, Sugar and Soda to make it more Palatable
A persistent issue faced by the industry was the lack of appropriate well-sealing glass bottles strong enough to contain carbonated drinks. Stoneware3 bottles were introduced between the 1830s-1850s, however these were heavy and expensive. A better alternative was found when Hiram Codd, an English engineer, patented a machine in 1872 to manufacture specially designed glass bottles that were suitable for the purpose. The so-called Codd bottle was made from thick glass to withstand the pressure of its contents with a chamber containing an enclosed marble and rubber washer in the neck. The invention proved to be a success and became widely employed by soft drink manufacturers across and beyond Europe.4
Glazed ceramic Stone Ware Bottles with flip top caps
A better alternative was found when Hiram Codd, an English engineer, patented a machine in 1872 to manufacture specially designed glass bottles that were suitable for the purpose. The so-called Codd bottle was made from thick glass to withstand the pressure of its contents with a chamber containing an enclosed marble and rubber washer in the neck. The invention proved to be a success and became widely employed by soft drink manufacturers across and beyond Europe.4
Hiram Codd - Codd bottles utilised pressure from Co2 to push the marble up against the rubber washer, effectively sealing the drink.
Despite this success, the complexity in design of Codd bottles made them expensive to produce and heavy in transport. Then in 1892, William Painter, an Irish mechanical engineer patented a new bottle sealing design for crown-cork caps. The simple design allowed such crowns, originally lined with a cork seal on their inner side5, to be easily and cheaply mass produced. This, in turn, made them suitable for use in a variety of much simpler bottle types which required less glass and elaboration, revolutionising the bottling industry once again. Painter is also credited for inventing a special bottle opener to match his crown cap device and a machine for crowning bottles.6
William Painter with his Crown Cap Patent Design & Crown Cap Opener. These openers eventually became known as Church Keys due to the resemblance in Design
The height of the crown caps was reduced in the 1960s, the teeth were reduced from 24 to 21, and a new variety of soft drink bottles with semi-threaded neck tops to accommodate a twist-off crown cap made their first appearance. However, twist-off caps have only recently become popular with a number of beverage firms. Other modern crown caps in use are styled as 'easy-pull' and 'pull-off'. The easy-pull type incorporates a small tab on its upper surface while the pull-off variety has a ring-pull attached to the teeth at its bottom rim. All these designs allow customers to open bottles without the necessity of an opener.
The Easy-Pull & Pull-Off Crown Cap Varieties - The second variety is made from a thinner & softer metal, usually aluminium
Notwithstanding the considerable progression of bottle design and manufacture, the beverage industry was still posed with a number of challenges. Glass bottles, although much lighter than older designs such as Codd's patent, remained heavy and fragile, requiring bulky crates for transportation. A solution to these issues came around in the mid-1930s when beverage manufacturers in the USA and UK started employing metal cans similar to those used for food to retail their drinks. A new type of can opener was devised by D.F. Sampson for the American Can Company in around 1935. It was a simple hand-operated device consisting of a single piece of pressed metal with a pointed edge for piercing can tops.7 Early cans used for soft drinks often came with opening instructions and some firms included a free opener with the drink. An indent for lifting crown caps was added to one side and later designs incorporated Codd's original opener with Sampson's device.
Evolution of Can and Crown Openers showing Codd's original Church Key patent and the incorporation of Sampson's Design
Flat-top cans proved unpopular at first leading American and other European beverage firms to adopt a cone-top design with standard crown caps identical to those used on glass bottles. These 'crowntainers' were originally made from tin or other sheet metal, internally lined with chemical substances, to avoid the contents reacting with the metal. It took several decades to find suitable lining compounds that were not harmful to health and prevent the drink from reacting with the can resulting in a slightly metallic taste. The cone-shaped cans were eventually phased out in the early 1960s following the introduction of new varieties made from aluminium having flat tops with pull tabs. More improvements came in the form a revised can shape with crimped edges, introduced in the 1970s and still in use today, ring-pull tabs, larger drink holes and better quality internal linings. A whole range of different sizes followed suit.
The Evolution of Soft Drink Cans
Another alternative to glass bottles came about in 1973 when Nathaniel Wyeth, an American engineer, patented polyethylene terephthalate (PET) as the first plastic bottles able to withstand the pressure of carbonated liquids. As in the case of modern cans, plastic bottles are lightweight, cheap, safe and fully recyclable, leading several major soft drink producers to abandon the use of glass in favour of Wyeth's invention. Despite this major innovation, PET bottles are single-use disposable and non-refundable containers which are often carelessly disposed-of resulting in pollution and environmental concerns.
Nathaniel Wyeth patented the first PET Plastic Bottles in 1973
PET bottles are sealed using screw-off caps aka screw tops fitted on fully-threaded bottle-neck openings. Screw tops have been around since the 19th century and were originally made from metal. The invention was patented by Dan Rylands, an Englishman, in August, 1889, but only become popular for use on soft-drink bottles in the last quarter of the 20th century. Aluminium caps on glass similarly gave way to plastic caps on PET bottles, but still remian in use on a much smaller scale.
Dan Ryland (seated) with fellow inventor Hiram Cod - Rylands screw cap design from the 1890s.
From a Maltese perspective, we are still looking into the earliest origins of local soft drink manufacture. The first such beverages to be bottled locally mainly consisted of carbonated mineral waters while most flavoured soft drinks were originally imported from abroad. Official statistics for 1938 drawn from Colonial records list 29 mineral water factories in Malta and another 5 in Gozo. The rise in demand of the post-war era led a number of Maltese brewers and firms to acquire licenses for bottling popular drinks such as Coca-Cola, Kitty Kola, and several more. This inspired others to create their own concoctions such as Kinnie and Winner Lemonade. These beverages were originally sold in embossed or plain glass bottles with laminated or paper labels. Cans were introduced around the early 1990s and plastic bottles adopted instead of glass over the past decade or so.8
The majority of soft drinks produced by the Maltese beverage industry are now sold in plastic bottles or cans. Kinnie was launched in 1952 and is credited as being the first exclusively Maltese mass-produced soft drink
The diagram below is intended to serve as a guide to the terms used when describing different sections of a bottle. Older bottles were manufactured using different techniques to those employed nowadays. These may be recognised by the presence of seam lines and a number of other details, such as air pockets trapped in the glass. The second part of the 20th century led to standardisation of markings employed by bottle-manufacturing firms aimed at easier identification of the respective sources. The example hereunder shows a 2012 bottle made by O-I Industries, a major stakeholder in the sector.
To read more about the individual firms, products, and the bottle varieties they employed, kindly access the links below.
Notes & References 1. Carbonated Water was considered to improve one's health. 2. Quinine was originally developed from the Cinchona tree as a remedy for the treatment of Malaria. 3. Despite the name, Stoneware is a actually a ceramic product. 4. The Codd bottle is still manufactured in India and Japan. Original examples of these bottles have become scarce and greatly sought after by collectors since many of them were originally destroyed by children in order to extract the glass marble. 5. The cork inner seal was eventually replaced by a thin rubber or PVDC disc. PVDC stands for Polyvinylidene Chloride: a soft type of plastic. 6. William Painter patented 85 inventions in all including a paper folding machine and a device for detecting counterfeit currency. 7. The new design inherited the name of Codd's crown cap openers and are still colloquially known as church keys. 8. A number of small Maltese beverage firms still use glass bottles, while some larger enterprises have re-introduced glass for some of their leading drinks.
Resources Soft Drink & Several linked Pages - Wikipedia.org The History of Soda Pop and Carbonated Beverages - Mary Bellis via Thoughtco.com Where the Codd Stopper Lives On - Whatshallweweird.com
The Crown cap - Pe-Di.com Who Invented the Crown Cap Lifter? - The Daily Screw (Bullworks.net) History & Revival of Screwcaps - Sue Courtney via Wineoftheweek.com Stuff: Archaeology of Pull Tabs - Pulltabarcheology.com The Story of Plastic - Laura Parker via Nationalgeorgraphic.com The Glass Works of the Ryland Family & Hiram Codd (PDF extract from publication by several authors) Malta Blue Book, 1938 - Nso.gov.mt How to Read a Glass Bottle - O-I.com
Images Medieval Tonics - Laura Pierotti via Pinterest.com Shipping Sugar - British Online Archives (microform.digital) Joseph Priestley's Experiments & Observations on Different Kinds of Air - Wikipedia.org Joseph Priestley Portrait (detail) - Ellen Sharples via Ditto
Thomas Henry Portrait (detail) - Manchester Literary & Philosphical Society via Ditto Tobern Olof Bergman Portrait by Ulrika Pasch (detail) - Esquito via Ditto Johann Jacob Schweppe Portrait (detail) - Unklar / Simmons via Ditto Jons Jacob Berzelius Portrait (detail) - Gallica.bnf.fr via Ditto
British Servicemen in India - Whisky Dog Blog (Whiskytravel.blogspot.com)
Hiram Codd photographed by Jose Maria Mora - Toryboy2008 via Wikipedia.org The Codd Bottle Collage - Whatshallweweird.com & Ebay.uk via Worthpoint.com William Painter in 1896 photographed by H.L. Perkins - Wikipedia.org Painter's Crown Cap Collage - Albert Musquiz via Heddels.com & Bullworks.net Evolution of the Can & Crown Openers Collage - Smithshop.com / Etsy.com / Ebay.com / Walmart.com Easy-pull & Pull-off Crowns Collage - Lindsey WBC via Wikipedia.org / Hugens via Flickr.com Evolution of Cans Collage - Businessinsider.com / Historydaily.org / Affbv.com / Soda.sou.edu Nathanial Wyeth & PET Bottles - The Plastics Academy (Plasticshalloffame.com) / Kimnezamanicatetti.com Rylands & Codd Collage - S.R. Miller via Discoverdearne.wordpress.com / Glass Works of the Ryland Family & Hiram Codd (PDF) / ampulla.co.uk Kinnie Bottle Evolution & Cans - Farsons.com / Kinnie.com Bottle Nomenclature & Markings - O-I.com
Some images may have been cropped, resized or altered for better clarity & presentation