WINONA, Minn. - After 80 years in production, little returnable glass bottles of Coke bottles will stop rolling down the bottling line in southern Minnesota.
Coca-Cola Bottling Company of Winona, the last in the country still making the returnable 6.5 ounce bottles of Coke, ended production of all bottles Tuesday.
The last bottle popped off the line around 11:00 Tuesday morning.
About 6,000 bottles all from the 1940s and 1950s are part of the final production run of Coke in Winona. The last bottle off the line on Tuesday will go to the World Coca-Cola Museum in Atlanta, Georgia.
"This is a very historic day," said Phillip Mooney, Chief archivist and Heritage Vice President of Coca-Cola. "For some 40 years, from 1915 to 1955, the only way you could have had a Coca-Cola was in one of these embossed glass packages (bottles). This really marks the end of an era for us."
The company says required upgrades to continue to fill and sell the bottles were not a sound business decision.
A crowd of about 80 people, many local dignitaries, Coke distributors from the mid-west and Coke Memorabilia collectors from across the country, gathered to watch the final bottles come off the production line.
Coke Collector's Club President Dick McChesney explained the origins of the uniquely shaped bottle. "(It) was created by Coca-Cola in 1915 by the Root Glass Company in Terre Haute, Indiana. They wanted a bottle that would replace all of the bottles of colors and sizes that they had. The line was: even a blind person wants to know that they are holding a Coke bottle."
The Winona bottler employs 14 workers full-time. All of them will keep their jobs. Since, Clint Kuhlman founded the Coca-Cola Bottling Company of Winona in 1932, four generations of his family have worked at the Franklin Street plant.
"My wife's father built this building," explained Leroy Telstad, Vice President and General Manager. "Her father still comes into work every day at 86. He has been in uniform for 64 years now."
Maeve Peterson, the founder's great granddaughter, moved 24-bottle cases of the empty vintage bottles just like the three generations of the family before her.
The last 6,000 bottles are to be sold in the Winona area to help finance improvements to a bicycle and pedestrian path in Winona. For collectors elsewhere who want to purchase a bottle for $20, they can go to this website.
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