Demise of the Hutchinson Era

Patenting of William Painter’s crown cork seal in 1892, development of Michael Owens' Automatic Bottle Machine in 1903, passage of the Pure Food and Drugs Act of 1906, and economic reality all combined to influence the shift from Hutchinson to crown seal bottling equipment by World War I.  None of these developments, however, unilaterally prompted the shift. 

Crown caps were sanitary, easily applied, and significantly less expensive than Hutchinson stoppers at only 25¢ per gross.  Crown caps, however, also required bottles with lips featuring crown finishes.  Convincing bottle manufacturers to produce bottles with standardized crown finishes was a decade-long, enormous marketing challenge for William Painter. 

It took several years for the glass manufacturers to become believers and make a significant technological investment in Owens’ Automatic Bottle Machine.  Once they switched, they dramatically increased production while lowering unit costs, and began producing highly standardized bottles, exactly what was needed for crown finish bottles.  Standardized bottle sizes and crown caps, combined with the advent of automated filling machines, helped fuel the conversion from Hutchinsons to crown closures.   

One of a bottler’s biggest challenges had long been (and still is) cleanliness.  They worked on a small profit margin, and rapid refilling of their bottles was a major key to success.  Hutchinson soda bottles had to make numerous round trips to and from consumers before bottlers recovered their initial investment, let alone made a profit.  Not all bottlers paid careful attention to removing old stoppers, properly cleaning bottles, and inserting new stoppers.  Usually returned with the stoppers still in the necks, it was easier and much faster to push the stoppers into the bottles, rinse them out, and use a stopper puller to pull the semi‑clean stoppers back into place.  A quick refilling and the bottles were once again on their way to customers – often with unhealthy stoppers that affected product quality.  Properly cleaned Hutchinson bottles and stoppers were very much in compliance with the Pure Food and Drugs Act of 1906.  Many authors cite 1912 as the end of the Hutchinson era, as that was the year W. H. Hutchinson & Son dropped Hutchinson stoppers from their catalog.  1912 was not, however, the end of the line for Hutchinson stoppers.  There are numerous instances of Hutchinson bottles still being used well into the 1920s.  Most likely these bottlers were extra careful to properly clean bottles and stoppers.

The combination of all these factors brought the curtain down on the Hutchinson era.