October 5, 2023

One of the bright and colorful Santa collections inside the museum seems to grow with each passing year and it’s just about ready to burst out of its current display case. The jovial man, dressed head to toe in red and clutching that curvy green glass bottle is an unmistakable advertising image.  This ad icon and quintessential piece of holiday Americana is none other than the Coca-Cola Santa.

Coca-Cola, celebrating its 125th Anniversary in Nov 2011, began using the image of Santa in its winter advertising back in the 1930’s and is often credited with creating our “modern” image of him. Talented commercial illustrator Haddon Sundblom is the artist behind the Coca-Cola imagery but his concepts were drawn on ones already established in the early 1900’s by other illustrators and advertisers. While Coca-Cola’s use of Santa in their winter advertising imagery was quite pervasive and persuasive, they certainly didn’t create the jolly ‘ol elf nor were they the first to capitalize on the classic kid-friendly imagery.

Speaking of Coca-Cola, did you know the classic glass bottle used to ferry fizzy drinks straight to thirsty consumers was designed right here in Indiana? Coca-Cola’s business was beginning to be threatened by an uprising in competition during the early 1900’s. The soft drink company decided to sponsor a contest; the goal was to come up with a unique bottle design Coca-Cola could trademark to help further protect their bubbly identity.

Root Glass Company based in Terre Haute, already a supplier of glass bottles to Coca-Cola and several other soda companies, had just been flattened by a tornado on March 23, 1913. While the plant was being reconstructed, Chapman Root assigned machinist Earl Dean and auditor Clyde Edwards to come up with a design for the contest. Dean’s “contour” bottle design was based on a drawing of a cocoa-pod he saw in a book at the local library and it was enough to make the Root design stand out above 11 other contenders. The Coca-Cola “contour” bottle was patented November 16, 1915.

Three glass furnaces at the Terre Haute plant ran constantly until the early 1930’s when the bottle works was sold to another glass company. Other glass companies also produced the bottles and paid Root a 5-cent royalty on each and every gross that was made. How about that distinctive green color? You might be surprised to know that the green color of the “contour” glass bottle wasn’t intentionally designed that way. The coloring actually comes from minerals in the sand mined in the Terre Haute area for glass-making. Other bottle manufacturers would go on to color their glass to match Root’s unique and natural glass color.The Root Glass Company would end up putting Terre Haute on the map for designing and producing the famous Coca-Cola “contour” bottle beginning in 1915.

If you would like some more information on the big Coca-Cola 125th Anniversary celebration in Terre Haute on November 21, visit WTHI’s Community Events Listing. Do you have any Coca-Cola collectibles or memories you’re especially fond of? Maybe there was a spot in the Santa Claus, Indiana area where you always loved to stop for an ice cold Coke? Leave us a comment and share your story!


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