Alexander Nowell & The Invention Of The Beer Bottle

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July 13, 1568 is often given as the date that the Dean of St Paul, Alexander Nowell invented the beer bottle. It’s almost certain that’s not correct. If you were writing a work of history you’d ignore what you couldn’t confirm, but if you’re only commemorating the event it’s as good a day as any to do so. The event in question was another fishing trip. Apparently, the theologian was quite the avid fisherman and “a keen angler.” Nowell’s contemporary, Izaak Walton — the author of The Compleat Angler — remarked of him that “this good man was observed to spend a tenth part of his time in angling; and also (for I have conversed with those which have conversed with him) to bestow a tenth part of his revenue, and usually all his fish, amongst the poor that inhabited near to those rivers in which it was caught; saying often, ‘that charity gave life to religion.'”

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As for inventing the beer bottle, credit was apparently not given until after his death, by English churchman and historian Thomas Fuller, who wrote. “Without offence it may be remembered, that leaving a bottle of ale, when fishing, in the grass, he found it some days after, no bottle, but a gun, such the sound at the opening thereof: and this is believed (casualty is mother of more inventions than industry) the original of bottled ale in England.”

The best account, as usual, undoubtedly comes from Martyn Cornell on his Zythophile blog, in his article, A Short History of Bottled Beer:

While Nowell was parish priest at Much Hadham in Hertfordshire, around 20 miles north of London, in the early years of Elizabeth I, it is said that he went on a fishing expedition to the nearby River Ash, taking with him for refreshment a bottle filled with home brewed ale. When Nowell went home he left the full bottle behind in the river-bank grass. According to Thomas Fuller’s History of the Worthies of Britain, published a hundred years later, when Nowell returned to the river-bank a few days later and came across the still-full bottle, “he found no bottle, but a gun, such was the sound at the opening thereof; and this is believed (causality is mother of more inventions than industry) the original of bottled ale in England.”

The ale, of course, had undergone a secondary fermentation in the bottle, building up carbon dioxide pressure so that it gave a loud pop when Nowell pulled the cork out. Such high-condition ale must have been a novelty to Elizabethan drinkers, who knew only the much flatter cask ales and beers. However, Fuller’s story is fun, but it seems unlikely Nowell really was the person who invented bottled beer: it seems more than probable that brewers were experimenting generally with storing beer in glass bottles in the latter half of the 16th century, though there is no apparent evidence of commercial bottling until the second half of the 17th century, only bottling by domestic brewers.

Part of the problem was that the hand-blown glass bottles of the time could not take the strain of the CO2 pressure. Gervaise Markham, writing in 1615, advised housewife brewers that when bottling ale “you should put it into round bottles with narrow mouths, and then, stopping them close with corks, set them in a cold cellar up to the waist in sand, and be sure that the corks be fast tied with strong pack thread, for fear of rising out and taking vent, which is the utter spoil of the ale.”

(There is, incidentally, a garbled version of the “bottle as gun” tale which seems to have materialised in the late 19th century, and which conflates the bottled ale story with another about Nowell fleeing England in a hurry in the reign of Queen Mary, after he received a warning that his enemy Bishop Bonner, known as “Bloody Bonner”, was out to arrest him for heresy. For some reason, in this version of the story Nowell is called “Newell”.)

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And this account is from Just Another Booze Blog:

It was a pleasant July day in 1568. Alexander Nowell, the Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral, in London, decided he wanted to do some fishing down by the river. He packed up all his fishing gear and tackle, the wife packed him a ham and cheese sandwich, and he grabbed his night crawlers and the new fishing lure he bought off of the Outdoor Channel. He was all set to go when he realized, what would go great with fishing? A beer! Because fishing without beer is like driving without beer. It’s just no fun. So he stopped by the corner pub on his way to the river and had them fill a glass bottle up with beer for him. He made sure they sealed it up good and tight with a cork so his horse wouldn’t get pulled over for an open container.

When done fishing, he accidentally left the still half full bottle on the river bank. Several days later (July 13th) he returned to do some more fishing, because he needed an excuse to get away from the wife for a while. He saw his old beer on the ground and thought “man, I could really go for some for that right now.” When he went to drink it, the cork opened with a loud bang (the beer had fermented further over the past few days). He found it to be extra fizzy and quite delicious.

Alexander Nowell, DD, Benefactor, Principal (1595), Dean of St Paul's
A 1595 portrait of Nowell at Brasenose College, at the University of Oxford.

Historic Beer Birthday: Michael Joseph Owens

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Today is the birthday of Michael Joseph Owens (January 1, 1859–December 27, 1923). He “was an inventor of machines that could automate the production of glass bottles.”

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If you’ve ever opened a beer bottle, you’ve probably held something he had a hand in developing, because he made beer bottles cheap and affordable for breweries, and his company has continued to improve upon his designs. Based on his patents, in 1903 he founded the Owens Bottle Company, which in 1929 merged with the Illinois Glass Company in 1929 to become Owens-Illinois, Inc. Today, O-I is an international company with 80 plants in 23 countries, joint ventures in China, Italy, Malaysia, Mexico, the United States and Vietnam, with 27,000 employees worldwide and 2,100-plus worldwide patents.

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Michael J. Owens in front of one of his bottling machines from a film shot in 1910.

Here’s a short biography of Owens:

Michael Joseph Owens was an inventor of machines that could automate the production of glass bottles.

Michael J. Owens was born on January 1, 1859, in Mason County, West Virginia. As a teenager, he went to work for a glass manufacturer in Newark, Ohio.

During the late 1800s, Toledo, Ohio was the site of large supplies of natural gas and high silica-content sandstone — two items necessary for glass manufacturing. Numerous companies either formed in or relocated to Toledo, including the New England Glass Company, which relocated to Toledo in 1888. This same year, the company’s owner, Edward Drummond Libbey, hired Owens.

Within a short time, Owens had become a plant manager for Libbey in Findlay, Ohio. At this point in time, glass manufacturers in the United States had to blow glass to produce the bottles. This was a slow and tedious process. Owens sought to invent a machine that could manufacture glass bottles, rather than having to rely on skilled laborers, greatly speeding up the manufacturing process. On August 2, 1904, Owens patented a machine that could automatically manufacture glass bottles. This machine could produce four bottles per second. Owens’s invention revolutionized the glass industry. His machine also caused tremendous growth in the soft drink and beer industries, as these firms now had a less expensive way of packaging their products.

In 1903, after Owens had invented his bottle machine but before he had patented the invention, Owens formed the Owens Bottle Machine Company in Toledo. Libbey helped finance Owens’s company. This firm initially manufactured Owens’s bottle machine. By 1919, the firm had begun to manufacture bottles, and the company changed its name to the Owens Bottle Company. The company grew quickly, acquiring the Illinois Glass Company in 1929. The Owens Bottle Company became known as the Owens-Illinois Glass Company this same year. In 1965, the company changed its name one final time. It became and remains known as Owens-Illinois, Inc.

Owens retired in 1919. He did not live to see his company grow into such an important manufacturer of glass. He died on December 27, 1923, in Toledo, Ohio. Over the course of his life, Owens secured forty-five patents.

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Here’s his biography from his Wikipedia page:

He was born in Mason County, West Virginia on January 1, 1859. He left school at the age of 10 to start a glassware apprenticeship at J. H. Hobbs, Brockunier and Company in Wheeling, West Virginia.

In 1888 he moved to Toledo, Ohio and worked for the Toledo Glass Factory owned by Edward Drummond Libbey. He was later promoted to foreman and then to supervisor. He formed the Owens Bottle Machine Company in 1903. His machines could produce glass bottles at a rate of 240 per minute, and reduce labor costs by 80%.

Owens and Libbey entered into a partnership and the company was renamed the Owens Bottle Company in 1919. In 1929 the company merged with the Illinois Glass Company to become the Owens-Illinois Glass Company.

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To read more about Owens’ contributions, check out Michael Owens’ Glass Bottles Changed The World, by Scott S. Smith, Owens the Innovator at the University of Toledo, Today in Science, and the West Virginia Encyclopedia has a history of the Owens-Illinois Glass Company.

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Patent No. 596366A: Stopper Fastener

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Today in 1897, US Patent 596366 A was issued, an invention of Robert S. Graham, for his “Stopper Fastener.” There’s no Abstract, although in the description it includes these claims:

This invention relates to a new and useful improvement in devices for holding corks in bottles, the object being to utilize the expansion of the contents of a bottle as an active medium to lock the fastener in position.

The object of my invention is to provide a non-expansible fastener, which is to be inserted loosely in position on the cork in the neck of the bottle manually or by machine, as desired, after which no further manipulation thereof is required, the contents of the bottle expanding and forcing the cork outwardly and locking the fastener and the cork in place. When the fastener has been locked in place, it willy firmly hold the cork against further outward movement, and by providing a hole in the fastener a corkscrew may be inserted to remove the cork, which can easily be done, or the fastener may be first pulled out of place by the introduction of the end of a corkscrew or other instrument thereunder and the cork subsequently removed.

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Patent No. 778680A: Beer Box

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Today in 1904, US Patent 778680 A was issued, an invention of Gottlieb Klenk and Jacob F. Fink, for their “Beer Box.” There’s no Abstract, although in the description it includes these claims:

Our invention relates to improvements in metal beer-boxes provided with peculiarly-arranged partitions to form compartments for the reception of the bottles and specific and minor details of construction to strengthen the structure.

The prime object of our invention is to provide a metal box with a nominal number of parts, seamed and fastened, whereby great strength and durability will result.

A further object of our invention is to construct a seam at the bottom of the box to provide a projecting flange and arrange a support at the top to receive a flange of a companion box when they are stored or packed.

\Ve also provide specific improvements in the seams at the corners of the box to resist the force of blows due to the rough handling boxes of this type are subjected to.

The invention also comprehends specific improvements of the partitions forming the bottle-compartments, as well as the particular manner of attaching them.

Furthermore, our invention relates to the specific construction of the means employed for locking the cover, the same consisting of a spring-hasp on the box and a co-acting pivoted engaging member on the cover.

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Patent No. 511600A: Bottle And Stopper Therefor

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Today in 1893, US Patent 511600 A was issued, an invention of Everett Ellis, for his “Bottle and Stopper Therefor.” There’s no Abstract, although in the description it includes these claims:

This invention relates to certain new and useful improvements in beer bottles and cork Stoppers therefor; and it consists substantially in such features thereof as will hereinafter be more particularly described.

In all manner of beer bottles heretofore employed in which cork-Stoppers are used it has been necessary always to employ a cork-screw or other implement for withdrawing the cork or stopper after the same has been forced or expanded into the bottle by any of the usual well known corking machines for the purpose. `The use of a cork-screw or other implement for extracting the cork or stopper is always attended with a great deal of trouble and inconvenience, besides wasting lots of time in many instances, and some forms of which are expensive as for instance that form of device usually applied to counters and which are designed to extract and cast away the cork by one movement of lever or handle.

The object of my invention is to provide a bottle and stopper therefor which shall enable the withdrawal of the latter from the bottle without the aid or use of any manner of cork-screw or other additional or outside device or implement whatsoever, thereby enabling beer or other similar liquids or fluids to be corked up in bottles all ready for use, and ready to be opened by a simple operation of the hand.

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Patent No. 747729A: Automatic Filling Machine

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Today in 1902, US Patent 747729 A was issued, an invention of William Koedding, for his “Automatic Filling Machine.” There’s no Abstract, although in the description it includes these claims:

My invention relates to machines for filling bottles and other receptacles with liquid, and has for its principal objects to produce a filling-machine which will operate automatically when the bottle is pressed against it in proper position to be filled, to equalize the pressure in the bottle with the pressure in the supply-pipe before the supply-pipe is opened to permit the liquid to How into the bottle, to provide for automatically stopping the flow of the liquid when the bottle is filled, and to prevent any stale liquid getting into the bottle.

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United States vs. Fifty Cases Of Bottled Beer

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While researching Joseph Fallert, whose birthday was earlier today, I came across an interesting lawsuit they were involved in brought by the Department of Agriculture in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, which was in Brooklyn. It seems the Joseph Fallert Brewery mislabeled fifty cases of beer they brewed and shipped them to Cuba. Apparently the beer was labeled “St. Louis” and “Bohemian Brewery’s Bottling” with the beer itself called “Brilliant BOHEMIAN Beer,” none of which was true.

Anyway, below is a report of the adjudication of the case interspersed with beer labels of breweries making Bohemian-Style Beer.

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I’m not sure what “Bohemian Beer” was specifically as defined in the early 1900s. There were quite a few beers that called their beer Bohemian, or “Bohemian Style” or “Bohemian Type” beer from that time period up through the 1950s and 60s. But the U.S. Attorney, after an investigation by the Department of Agriculture, alleged the beer brewed by Fallert was not Bohemian.

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There even was Bohemian Beer brewed in St. Louis by the American Brewing Co.

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If you read through the case, taken from a “Report of Committee and Hearings Held Before the Senate Committee on Manufactures Relative to Foods Held in Cold Storage,” you may have noticed that judgment was rendered without the Joseph Fallert Brewery having brought a defense or even appearing in court. I guess they figured there really was no legitimate defense they could bring and it appears that only the beer was lost, confiscated and sold at auction, and they weren’t fined or in any other way punished as far as I can tell.

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Patent No. 2917220A: Carrier For Beer Bottles

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Today in 1959, US Patent 2917220 A was issued, an invention of Raymond N. Bostock, assigned to Ballantine & Sons, for his “Carrier for Beer Bottles and the Like.” There’s no Abstract, although in the description it includes these claims:

Open top cartons, that is cartons having bottom, side and end Walls, but not a top wall or cover, have been used for a number of years for the purpose of storing and transporting Various items of merchandise, including glass bottles containing beer, soft drinks or other liquids. Such cartons are usually provided with partitions that divide their interiors into compartments for receiving individual bottles to prevent the bottles from coming into direct contact with each other, thereby minimizing the possibility of breakage of the bottles in the course of handling.

Due to the weight of the merchandise and the rough handling to which loaded cartons are frequently subjected, present-day open cartons are generally constructed of heavy fibreboard. It is often necessary, in order to provide adequate strength and rigidity, to reinforce the cartons in various ways. As a consequence, such cartons are quite expensive.

container may be made of a relatively lightweight, inexpensive corrugated cardboard. The sling is preferably made of a heavy duty fibreboard, while the partition unit is made of a suitable grade and Weight of fibreboard. Fibreboard is recommended for the sling and partition unit, to provide necessary strength and to permit repeated reuse of the same, with the initial or subsequent outer containers. Also, the sling and partition unit are treated to make them waterproof, thereby protecting them from moisture and prolonging their useful life. It will be understood that the term paperboard, as used hereinafter and in the appended claims, is intended to cover various sheet materials that may be used in the mantufacture of the carrier of this invention, whether corrugated cardboard, fibreboard or other appropriate material.

The primary object of the invention is to provide a carrier for bottles or the like having improved features’ of construction.

Another object of the invention is to provide a bottle carrier having a relatively inexpensive disposable outer container.

Another object of the invention is to provide a bottle carrier having a relatively inexpensive outer container, which may be discarded when scuffed or otherwise rendered unsightly, and a relatively strong reinforced inner container, which may be reused many times with successive outer containers.

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Patent No. 2863579A: Case Unloader With Bottle Rejecting Head

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Today in 1958, US Patent 2863579 A was issued, an invention of George L.N. Meyer, for his “Case Unloader with Bottle Rejecting Head.” There’s no Abstract, although in the description it includes these claims:

This invention relates to a case unloader adapted to unload empty bottles from a case and to reject bottles with corks, caps or other obstructions in the neck of the bottle.

In case unloaders used to remove empty beer, carbonated beverage bottles, etc., from cases and deliver them to a bottle washer, or the like, prior to refilling, much trouble has been experienced with bottles that have been re-capped or which have a cork or other obstruction in the neck. Case unloaders heretofore made had no provision for rejecting such bottles and as a result bottles with caps or corks on the necks were processed through the bottle washer. When such bottles reached the inside brush station, or the rinsing station, the brush spindle, or the rinse nozzle, would strike the cap, cork or other obstruction and bend either the spindle or the nozzle, necessitating stopping of the machine to replace the damaged element.

It is an object of the present invention to provide a case unloader for bottles which will reject any bottles having a crown, cork or other such obstruction in the neck, and so prevent such bottles from going through the washing machine.

Another object is to provide a case unloader which will remove only those bottles from the case which have the necks of the bottles free of obstructions.

A further object of the invention is to provide a case unloader for beverage bottles, or the like, which will reduce break-downs in the bottle washing machinery.

A still further object is to provide a case unloader which will reduce the amount of supervision required to load bottles onto a bottle washer.

A still further object of the invention is to reduce the overall cost of washing bottles.

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Patent No. 572708A: Beer Bottling Apparatus

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Today in 1896, US Patent 572708 A was issued, an invention of Charles Meldrum, for his “Beer Bottling Apparatus.” There’s no Abstract, although in the description it includes these claims:

Prior to my invention it has been the usual custom to fill bottles with beer from the keg by employing flexible rubber tubes which are passed down through the open bung-hole into the beer and siphoning the beer through these tubes into the bottles. The disadvantages in bottling beer in this manner are that too much air is admitted through the open bung-hole and the beer is subjected to unnecessary agitation in being siphoned over, all of which results in the liberation and escape of sufficient gas to materially effect the life of the beer. Then, too, any sediment or impurities which may be present in the beer in the keg are carried over into the bottles, which is also a serious objection.

-The object of my present invention is to overcome these defects in a simple and effective manner; and to that end it consists of a passage or conductor one end of which is adapted for tight insertion and removable retention in the bung-hole on the lower side of the keg and provided with a vent-tube which passes up through the beer and into the air-space above, the other end having a chamber across which is placed a strainer and a series of outlet-passages arranged in the wall of the straining-chamber and adapted for engagement with a series of flexible tubes, through which the strained beer passes by gravity into the bottles.

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