Coca-Cola Hits the Spot in Museum Exhibit

by: Beth Whitmire

As seen in Antiques & Art Around Florida, Winter/Spring 2006

An empty Coca-Cola bottle might have fetched you 5 cents if you returned it to the corner store years ago. If you kept it, it might be worth a whole lot more.  Today, some Coke bottles, especially those commemorating special events, are being bought by collectors for as much as $7,000 each.

You can almost hear the soft thud as if an old Coca-Cola bottle is rolling through one of the gleaming, old dispensers inside the Root Family Museum at the  Museum of Arts and Sciences in Daytona Beach. No modern, cookie-cutter aluminum cans here.  An impressive exhibition of Coca-Cola artifacts has given the Museum plenty of fizz. The collection is renowned for its memorabilia which includes every conceivable item relating to the bottling, distribution, advertising and consumption of Coca Cola, including two 1925 Ford Model “T” A frame route trucks.

One of the largest private collection of its kind in the United States, it had been previously housed at the local headquarters of the Root Corporation.  Its founder, Chapman J. Root, is best known for leading a team to design the bulging, fluted glass bottle that has been an American cultural icon for almost 90 years.

The Root Family Museum features the best of 50 years of collecting by the late Chapman S. Root and his family. The earliest piece, a 1903 Icy-O bottle cooler, is a highlight along with more than 30 vintage dispensers, c. 1908-1960.  A rare leaded stained glass electrified store display bottle in the style of Tiffany, c. 1925 is displayed among a collection of bottling equipment, c. 1892-1915. The collection also includes an assortment of rare trays and calendars and examples of salesman’s sample coolers, 1929-1939.

Coca Cola, which was invented in an Atlanta, Georgia pharmacy in 1886 by Dr. John Stith Pemberton originally sold for a nickel a glass. By the early 1900s, the soft drink had become very popular, just in time for the Root family to develop a taste for the product.  A veteran of the glass industry, Chapman J. Root had founded a glass company in Terre Haute, Indiana in 1901 to produce glass bottles, most of which were designed to withstand high internal temperatures.

In 1916, the Coca-Cola Co. held a nationwide competition to find a single, distinct design for its bottles.  Root entered the contest.  A team of five designers came up with an approach that featured a very round center, according to John Root, the great-grandson of the founder.  That prototype won first prize, but the bulge was slimmed down so bottles would fit into existing dispensers.

Root’s grandson, Chapman S. Root, relocated the company from Indiana to Daytona Beach in 1951.

While the business evolved into the largest independent bottler of Coca-Cola products, Root and his wife, Susan, began amassing Coca-Cola artifacts.  They sold the company back to the Coca-Cola Co. in 1982, after building a collection that includes everything from the famous calendar girls and trays festooned with Coca-Cola images to early bottling machinery, vintage posters and other trinkets bearing the coca-Cola emblem. 

"This is one of the most historically important collections featuring the American soft drink," explained Gary Libby, Director Emeritus of the Museum of Arts and Sciences.  "Our museum is extremely fortunate to have this one-of-a-kind, popular culture exhibit here in Daytona Beach and available to the public."

Susan Root also was interested in handmade quilts, which are on display in the Root Museum along with racing memorabilia, three race cars from the famous Sumar team and a 1948 pale green Lincoln Continental that took the couple on their honeymoon that year.  Her teddy bear collection contains 800 varieties, including several only a few inches tall.  Others stand six feet high.

The Root Family Museum is one of 10 permanent installations at the Museum of Arts and Sciences, which is a member of the Smithsonian Institution’s Affiliations program. 

The Museum of Arts and Sciences is located at 352 S. Nova Road, Daytona Beach, Florida. Admission is $12.95 for adults; $4.95 for students; $8.95 for Seniors; children under 6 are admitted free. Planetarium admission is $3 for adults and $2 for children. The museum is open Monday through Saturday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday, noon to 5 p.m. For more information, please call toll free (866) 439-4769.

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