The Ketchup Bottle

Ketchup has long been one of our most popular condiments. The H.J. Heinz Company made ketchup the success it is today, but it was an inventor by the name of Paul Brown who also had a role in making ketchup popular.

When Heinz first started producing ketchup, it was sold in a glass bottle with a long narrow neck and wider base. To access the ketchup you turned the bottle upside down and then tapped on the bottle to release the ketchup. It often took a magic touch to get the right amount of ketchup.

Paul Brown owned a precision molding company and was an inventor as well. He wondered if there would be a way to dispense product in a plastic bottle which could be squeezed to release the amount of product needed. The complication was that the bottle would need to be turned upside down, and it would take time for the product to flow downward. Often the original squeezing action would create a fart sound as air was released.

Paul had a client who asked him to develop a valve that would enable shampoo bottles to be stored upside down for easy dispensing. The challenge was that the valve needed to prevent the shampoo from leaking when it was not being used.

Paul enlisted the help of an employee, Tim Socier, to explore ways to make the non-leaking upside down bottle work. It was the 112th prototype that proved a success.

The shampoo company was the first customer of the leak-proof valve, followed by NASA and Gerber, both who had problems with leak-proof drinking cups. In 1991, the big breakthrough came when the Heinz company started selling ketchup in upside down bottles.

It took over 100 years for the ketchup bottle to evolve into what we have in our refrigerators today. It’s interesting to think about this as an evolutionary story of beginnings involving new materials (glass-to-plastic), new concepts (pouring to squeezing), and increased convenience (erect to upside down). This is an evolution for many products today.

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“You know, you really can’t beat a household commodity –the ketchup bottle on the kitchen table.” Adlai Stevenson – (candidate for U.S. President in 1952)

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