The real thing: Coke's iconic bottle

A 1915 pencil sketch by Earl R. Dean of the original Coca-Cola bottle and its protoype.
Julien's Auctions

(CBS News) As Mark Strassmann is about to tell us, for millions of thirsty Americans through the years, nothing hits the spot like The Real Thing:

Everyone talks about bottling success, but Coke actually did it.

The Coke bottle is an iconic design recognized around the world, with its ridged glass, bowed middle and unmistakable curve appeal

Coke calls it "the contour bottle." Andy Warhol called it art.

"Every consumer goods company wants to find a unique way to present itself to the public, and this, for us, has been the Holy Grail," said Phil Mooney, Coca-Cola's company historian.

Coke began in Atlanta in 1886 as a soda fountain drink selling for five cents. Bottling plants sprang up throughout the entire United States, and by about 1910, just about every part of the U.S. is covered.

But the bottles came in a variety of shapes and colors. By 1915, Coke's success had so many imitators, customers seldom knew whether they were buying the real thing.

"They come up with names that sound very much like Coca-Cola," said Mooney. "So you get Cheracola, Dixie Cola, Take a Cola, Cocanola - any combination of thing that could deceive the public into thinking that they were actually buying Coca-Cola."

Mooney said Coke executives had a company-defining marketing idea: "So they decide to initiate a contest - they want a bottle that is so unique that you will be able to identify it in the dark simply by its shape, a bottle that is so unique that even if you find it broken in pieces on the ground, you will be able to identify it as a bottle for Coca-Cola."

At the Root Glass company in Terre Haute, Ind., designers inspired by the gourd-shaped cocoa pod drew one of marketing's all time game-changers.

And in 1916, with a little slimming down, the 6.5-ounce contour bottle was born.

Coke bottle prototype auctions for $240K

And it's always the same. "People recognize it," said Mooney. "They clearly understand what it is. It enabled us to create a system around that."

During World War II, Coke donated more than five BILLION bottles to GIs fighting overseas.

Today, Coke worldwide sells almost two billion drinks every 24 hours.