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Terre Haute Savors its History at the First Birthplace of the Coca-Cola Bottle Festival

September 19, 2018
        A full glass Coca-Cola bottle stands next to an empty green one.

Terre Haute is home to one of the most iconic designs in the world. It’s just that many people don’t know it.

“It amazes me how many people who have lived here in Terre Haute all their lives have no clue that we’re the birthplace of the Coca-Cola bottle,” said Downtown Terre Haute Coordinator Stephanie Pence. “Here’s something very special across the world we’re known for, and we need to celebrate that.”

This week, almost 103 years after the bottle was introduced, hundreds are expected to pour into Terre Haute for the first-ever Birthplace of the Coca-Cola Bottle Festival.

Back in 1915, Coca-Cola issued a challenge to the country: The company asked people to design a “bottle so distinct that you would recognize it by feel in the dark or lying broken on the ground.”

Design drawing of the Root Glass Co. Coca-Cola bottle. A design drawing for the iconic Coca-Cola bottle. (Photo: Coca-Cola Company)

The now-defunct Root Glass Company in Terre Haute saw the opportunity and incorporated a design modeled after the plant that inspired the soda. The only problem: the company’s founder, Chapman J. Root, had designed it based on the cocoa plant, not the coca plant.

It was an honest mistake, and it was one that inspired an icon for the next century.

The contoured, grooved bottle has gone on to be instantly recognizable around the globe. Its classic green color (the result of the copper and minerals found in the sand used) was just as famous.

After winning the contest, Chapman J. Root acquired several bottling franchises to form the Associated Coca-Cola Bottlers in 1939. This would be the country’s largest independent Coke bottler for the next 30 years.

“It’s fascinating to realize what the bottle has evolved to represent, and to grasp the profound effect it’s had on our culture,” Preston Root, great-grandson to Chapman J. Root, told Coca-Cola. “[It] became a permanent part of the American landscape.”

An old ad for the Root Glass Company with a Coca-Cola bottle pictured. An advertisement for the Root Glass Company. (Photo: Earlycoke.com)

Although the Root family relocated its operations to Daytona Beach in 1949 and sold its ownership interest to the Coca-Cola Company in 1982, the pride in the design is still felt decades later back in Terre Haute.

It begins bright and early Saturday morning with the Crossroads Half Marathon. Soon after, the festival opens up with a kids’ crafting area (centered around design to stay with the theme), live music, a beer garden and even a few matches from New Wave Pro Wrestling.

Attendees won’t be able to throw a bottle cap without hitting something Coca-Cola. Pence says the festival features loads of Coca-Cola memorabilia and merchandise, plus a few photo ops like the city’s famous 6-foot Coca-Cola bottle sculptures and the 30-foot inflatable bottle looming over the festival.

Pence says Terre Haute’s Coca-Cola pride is something that will continue to be celebrated for some time. Brand-new bike racks commemorating the event are set to be installed just after the festival concludes, thanks to a grant from the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs. And planning has already begun on next year’s festival, a tradition Pence hopes will only grow as it goes on.

“It’s something very unique that Terre Haute can claim, and we’re finally embracing that.”

For more information on the festival, head to the Terre Haute Chamber of Commerce’s website.

Featured image via Shutterstock.