The Straight Sided Fountain Glass for Coca-Cola
© 2014 Blaine Martin
Image showing the straight-sided glass and its silver glass holder on a 1902 paper sign.
This wonderful turn-of-the-century soda fountain is typical of the type that would have served Coca-Cola in the straight sided glass.
The two variations of the straight-sided Coca-Cola glass.
1900 pamphlet for soda fountain operators discussing the glass. The reverse side shows the bulk glass pricing and how to correctly dispense the drink.
A rare c.1902 newspaper ad showing the straight sided glass and the silver glass holder.
In the beginning
Coca-Cola was first served in 1886 at Venable's Fountain on the ground floor of Jacob's Pharmacy in Atlanta in what was likely an unmarked mineral water glass. It would be fourteen years, and many thousands of fountain drinks later, before Coca-Cola had its own glass marked with the iconic logo. At that time, soda-fountain concoctions were served in many different styles and many different sizes of drink glasses.
This lack of uniformity in a serving container led to problems with the taste of drink being inconsistent. If not enough syrup was used, the drink would taste to weak. If too much syrup was used it would taste too strong. Exact measurement important – one ounce syrup to five ounces of carbonated water. The order that the ingredients were placed in the glass were important as well. Once ounce of syrup first, then the carbonated water, then the crushed ice (just the right amount), then stir gently, but not too much.
From a financial standpoint for the fountain owner – if a glass was too large, too much syrup had to be used, and the fountain operator would make less profit. Coca-Cola's handsome profit was estimated based upon 128 one ounce servings per gallon of syrup and a five cent retail price. If he used more than an ounce of syrup per glass the operator would either lose money or he would often raise the serving price to six or ten cents, which was inconsistent with Coca-Cola's advertising and image.
Mixing a simple drink like Coca-Cola sounds quite simple now, but at the time there were just to many variables. Coca-Cola often tasted different from visit to visit and location to location – and thirsty customers were beginning to notice.
A solution to every problem
By the end of the 19th Century there was a clear need for a seven ounce Coca-Cola glass that could solve all the problems noted above.
A solution was created by making some alterations to the standard seven ounce, two inch by four inch, mineral water glass. The Coca-Cola logo was added at the top center of the glass and a syrup line was added approximately three-fourths inch from the bottom of the glass.
The syrup line would help the soda jerk put in the correct amount of syrup and the logo would always remind customers to order Coca-Cola. The size of the glass kept the amount of carbonated water to the desirable amount.
Making a drinking glass in 1900
At the turn of the century, a drinking glass was hand blown in a two-part mold and slowly turned within the mold as it cooled.
After cooling – the top part of the glass (that was attached to the blow pipe) was removed leaving the glass with a rough and sharp edged lip. The glass was then reheated and slowly cooled again to remove any brittleness remaining in the glass. The remaining rough drinking edge was then smoothed and slightly melted to form a small bead around the lip of the glass. This bead is very small and nearly unnoticeable on the straight-sided glass. Later Coca-Cola fountain glasses from the 1920's - 1940's would have a very pronounced and noticeable bead.
Lastly, the logo and syrup line were applied through a process similar to rubber stamping. Instead of ink, a varnish like substance was applied, then dusted with a white powdered enamel. The glass was then reheated causing the varnish and enamel to harden.
Since these early graphics were applied by human hand and not a machine, they are not perfect and can vary somewhat from glass to glass. Please note that this varnish graphic was on the outside surface of the glass and not etched into the glass itself, as many people today think.
Distributing the new glass
The Coca-Cola Company (actually the Company's syrup wholesalers) sold the glasses to the fountain operators at cost. Due to the large quantities purchased by the Company, the price of 36 glasses for $1.75 made the Coca-Cola marked glasses cheaper than the fountains could purchase unmarked glasses for. Who wouldn't take advantage of that?
A rare item for today's collector
The straight-sided glass for Coca-Cola was used only briefly from 1900 to 1904 before the "flare" glass became fashionable. Also, the straight sided glass had thin walls and an easily damaged lip made the glass very fragile.
Many were broken during usage and in the intervening years. This short period of availability, combined with the glasses' fragility makes them very scarce in today's market. The result is that any surviving example is rare and coveted by most collectors.