William Painter was born in 1838 in Baltimore. No matter how clever he was, none of his inventions were as successful as he expected, and he eventually realized that his greatest chance of success would be to create a throwaway item that would sell in big numbers.
And then it came to him
The crown hat, invented in 1892, was the fruit of his years of perseverance and ingenuity. Carbonated drinks, commonly accessible in pubs and drugstores by the 1880s, presented a packaging difficulty for people wanting to take them home. The metal, cork, or porcelain stoppers used in most glass bottles at the time did not produce a sufficient seal to keep in the carbon dioxide that formed the beverages’ bubbles. Worse, if they got into the liquid in the bottles, they rendered it poisonous and undrinkable.
Using a metal lid coated with a thin cork disc to improve the seal and protect the drink from metal toxicity, William created “crown corks.” The corrugated caps were squeezed around the rim of a bottle by hand or machine. They were one-time use, cheap, and leak-proof. William’s invention was granted US patent 468,258 in 1892. The first bottle opener was patented by him two years later.
Problems and solutions
William established the Crown Cork and Seal Company in Baltimore and began a campaign to get bottlers to adopt his cap on their goods. Initially, this was difficult since the crown caps required a particular neck tip design to cling onto when squeezed around the bottle. There would also need to be a mechanism to properly push the caps onto the bottles without shattering them.
By 1898, William had developed a foot-powered crowner for bottlers and sellers to effortlessly seal his caps. This allowed his bottle caps to gain global recognition immediately. By 1906, his firm included factories in France, Germany, Japan, and Brazil. William died in July of that year, having earned nearly 80 patents.
Leaving a legacy
In the decades that followed, the firm grew and prospered, eventually supplying about half of the world’s bottlecaps. In 1958, the firm relocated to Philadelphia. Crown Cork & Seal has continued to develop in food and beverage packaging as well as modifying soft drink bottling equipment. In 2003, the enterprise was acquired by Crown Holdings, Inc. Its headquarters remain in Philadelphia, and it continues to pioneer new packaging technologies.