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Updated on April 23, 2010

A bottle is bascially a container, usually for liquids, with a narrow neck to facilitate sealing and thereby protect the contents. Some kind of bottle is almost essential in any form of civilized life. Early man used hollow gourds and sewn-up animal skins as containers. (The Biblical warning against putting new wine into old bottles referred to leather bottles, which might split when old and dry.)

Photo by Iva Villi
Photo by Iva Villi

Historical Background of Bottles

Earthenware Bottles. Pottery making started in the Late Stone Age, so the earliest clay bottles may have been made over 10,000 years ago. In Greek and Roman times large amphorae were often filled with oil or wine and transported by' ship. In medieval Europe the traditional earthenware wine bottle, made in the Rhineland, was always decorated with a bearded face on one side of the neck. Earthenware bottles for ginger beer were the last clay bottles in general use, but occasionally clay bottles return to fashion for special foods and condiments.

Glass Bottles. The Egyptians, perhaps 4,000 years ago, made the first glass bottles by carefully winding threads of molten glass around a shaped sand core. These small, costly, and sometimes very beautiful bottles were used for cosmetics, ointments, and perfumes. During the period from about 1300 to the 2nd century B.C., the bottle-making technique consisted of dipping a core of sand in a cloth bag into molten glass. But it was not until the art of glassblowing was invented in the 1st century B.C. that glass containers became suitable for everyday use; the Romans used them in vast numbers for various purposes, including storage of cremation ashes. The old methods of bottle blowing, with or without molds, have been practiced without much change for over 2,000 years, but bottle blowing is now used only to make decorative ware.

Glassmaking nearly ended in Europe in the period from about 500 to 900 A.D. In the revival of glassmaking that occurred in France and Venice in medieval times, the glass was used mainly for artistic purposes. It was the English in the 17th century who reestablished the glass bottle, especially as a container for wine. Helped by the discovery of how to melt glass with coal instead of wood fuel, they were able to sell quart bottles for as little as twopence (a few cents) each. By the end of the 17th century the English were making three million bottles a year and exporting them all over the world.

The first English colonists in America (Jamestown, Virginia, 1607) included eight glassblowers.

By 1608 a small factory—the first factory in America—was in operation but failed in 1624. (A working replica was built nearby in the late 1950's, and bottles are being made there today in the same way as originally.)

Apart from the use of cast-iron molds in the 19th century, little change occurred in bottle-making methods until 1903 when an automatic bottle-machine was invented.

Bottle Closures. The narrow-necked container needs a good stopper. This was provided in the 17th century by the introduction of bungs made of cork. The cork stoppers were a great improvement over the old wooden plugs. In the 19th century, many types of closures were invented, especially for carbonated drinks. Two notable ones are Codd stopper (1872), which was a captive glass marble inside the bottle neck, and the familiar crown seal (1892) made of metal. With the greater dimensional accuracy possible in modern bottle and closure manufacture, more and more bottles are made with necks that fit screw-off closures of various types.

Modern Methods of Bottle Making

The first successful automatic bottle-making machine, built by Michael J. Owens in Toledo, Ohio, in 1903, revolutionized the glass industry. It made 1,800 bottles per hour whereas a glass-blower could make only 25 per hour. In 1909, Owens and Edward D. Libbey formed a company that later became Owens-Illinois, Inc., the world's largest bottle manufacturer.

The Owens machine has a continuously rotating table carrying as many as 30 molds that are successively dipped into a shallow revolving bath brimful of molten glass. Each mold is filled with glass by suction; the bottle-forming operation is completed with compressed air. Several other machines have been developed since 1903; the most important one is the I.S. (Individual Section) machine invented by Henry W. Ingle in 1925, but much improved since then. This machine is fed with individual gobs of hot glass from a feeding device above the molds.

All automatic glass-forming machines follow a sequence similar to the old hand process. The glass is formed into a roughly cylindrical shape in a parison (preliminary) mold, and then it is transferred to a blow (final) mold where the operation is completed. The neck of the bottle is completely formed at the first stage, but it is still called the "finish" to retain the traditional term of the old hand process in which neck forming was the final operation.

Glass bottle production has increased steadily in the 20th century not only because of more uses for bottles (especially for foods and drinks) but also because nearly all are now used only once instead of being returned and reused many times. The United States produces more than 28,450,000,000 glass bottles and jars annually.

Plastic Bottles

Since World War II there have been rapid developments in the manufacture of blown thermoplastic bottles made of Polyethylene, polypropylene, polyvinyl chloride, or some other plastic. Many different machines have been developed; nearly all of them follow the same basic sequence as in glass forming, except that the gob usually is formed by extrusion or injection molding under very high pressure.

Plastic bottles are much lighter and less fragile than glass bottles. Glass, however, has the advantages of cheapness, rigidity, and chemical inertness, and most experts expect that both types of bottles will continue to be used.


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      becca shea 7 years ago

      this is a really good place to find info for a project on bottles!!thanks i needed the info!! :)