Who Invented the Bottle Cap?
Posted on February 24 2018
Consider the Humble Bottle Cap!
Many Southern Drinking Club members tend to contemplate on matters pertaining to our favorite beverages, and it doesn’t take much to stimulate conversation about fine spirits, whether their historical origin, method of distilling or brewing, or any related trivia of interest.
Thus, the humble bottle cap recently became the object of contemplation when one fell to the floor because too many had collected on the rare earth magnet of our Magnetic Cap N’ Catch Bottle Opener.
“How many caps is this opener supposed to catch?” asked Brian.
“About 30,” I replied, but to little avail, as he started plucking the caps off the magnetized opener for an official count.
“32. Not too bad,” Brian announced, and then flicked one across the room with the snap of his fingers, hitting Dylan a glancing blow on the top of the head.
“Don’t start a war you can’t win,” Dylan growled.
“Hah! I’ve already won,” replied Brian, “Cause I’ve got all the ammo.”
He had a point, but didn’t bother stressing it with a follow-up shot, and we all kind of chuckled in unison, apparently recalling all the bottle cap battles we had engaged in during our less refined drinking days (i.e., during university).
“You know the world record for flicking a bottle cap is about 150 feet,” Joe chimed in. “Set by a Carolina boy back in about 2003. Of course, it might have been broken since then, but it figures that it was first set by a good Southerner.”
Well, this got us going, and bottle cap trivia became the topic of discussion for the next two rounds of beer. And given that we at the Southern Drinking Club like to educate our readers about everything related to our favorite pastime, I am now going to share what we discussed and learned about the humble bottle cap.
Who Invented the Bottle Cap?
Or, more specifically, the “crown cork bottle cap” as invented and patented by William Painter in 1892. As Painter is from Baltimore, just South of the Mason-Dixon Line, we can claim this indispensable beer accessory as a Southern invention (not that such a fact would be unusual, as much of America’s drinking culture has Southern origins).
Anyhow, those first crown cork bottle caps were manufactured by Painter’s company, the Bottle Seal Company, which changed its name to the Crown Cork and Seal Company, upon the near immediate success of Painter’s new bottle cap. The company is now known as Crown Holdings, and is one of the biggest beverage and food packagers in the world.
The crown cork bottle cap is considered to be one of the world’s first successful disposable products, and led to the invention of disposable razor. At least that’s what King C. Gillette, a former Crown Cork Company salesman, said was a prime influencer in his development of the disposable razor and founding of his company.
Painter’s 1892 crown cork bottle cap is little changed from the same bottle caps being used today. As we totally discount the inferior “twist-off” version for the purposes of this article, about the most significant change is that the cork liner was phased out by the 1960s, and replaced by aluminum, plastic, vinyl and other materials. Another big change is that the number of flanges on modern bottle caps is 21, as compared to the 24 used from the original patent until the mid-1960s. Apparently German engineers determined that 21 flanges was optimal for sealing and carbonation preservation purposes. While they may not be Southern, those Germans certainly know their beer and have a stellar reputation with regard to engineering.
Now how are we going to get the Caps off the Bottle?
Along with his crown cork bottle cap, Painter also invented and patented the first “churchkey" style bottle opener. The bottle openers at the time resembled old keys monks used, and ironically and device used to open a beer was call a church key. Interestingly, this invention came two years after Painter invented the bottle cap, but history has failed to record how folks opened their beers prior to this needed follow-up invention.
Of course, as all hard-core (and even medium-core) beer drinkers know, there are countless means of separating a crown bottle cap from its bottle. We would surmise that screwdrivers, knives and spoons were the openers of choice during that two year lag between cap and opener inventions, but would also guess that a fair number of teeth may have been lost back then. Heck, tooth breakage by beer bottle opening continues to affect the male population ages 19-24 despite there being dozens of more efficient opening methods for those lacking a bottle opener.
Of course, we here at SDC would suggest that our two openers represent the best means for opening your beer. Our Wood Bottle Opener provides a handy portable means of opening bottles, while our Magnetic Cap N’ Catch Bottle Opener provides a convenient fixed means of popping those caps off. Both provide the added benefit of making the collection of caps easy, as both include magnetization that grabs and holds the cap.
It also proves handy should you be collecting the caps for bottle cap flicking battles, which our discussion about bottle caps ultimately devolved into.
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