Common 20th Century Artifacts - A Guide to Dating


Historical archeologists and others trying to date historical sites by means of the artifacts found on them are increasingly interested in common items manufactured during the lifetimes of people still living. This dating guide is intended to provide a simple source for the most common artifacts found in archeological or historic contexts.
Cathy Spude compiled the following dating information for use by the public and professionals.

Aluminum Foil

Bottles, General

Bottles, Beer

Cans, General

Cans, Beer

Cartridge Identification Bibliography

Cigarettes

Closures, Bottle

Plastics and Synthetics

Other Artifacts

References Cited


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Aluminum Foil

1825: Aluminum first isolated (Encyclopedia Britannica 1973 (1): 693).

1855: Introduced in Paris Exposition (Encyclopedia Britannica 1973 (1): 693).

1886: Modern electrolytic method of producing aluminum discovered by Charles Martin Hall in the United States and Paul L. T. Heroult in France (Encyclopedia Britannica 1973 (1): 693).

Ca. 1920: Beginning of commercial production of aluminum foil; used to wrap tea, candy, gum and cigarettes (Sacharow 1978:111).

1939: Aluminum foil being used to wrap dried fruit, cream cheese, and for beer labels (Sacharow 1978: 111).

1940-1945: Increased demand for aluminum foil packaging (Sacharow 1978: 112).

1947: Upward trend in world production of aluminum begun (Encyclopedia Britannica 1973 (1): 694).


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Bottles, General

1820-1925: Tooled finish (Jones and Sullivan 1985: 165).

1877 - 1920: Vent marks (Jones and Sullivan 1985: 165).

1886: The first machine to make narrow-mouthed bottles was developed. This was a semi-automatic Ashley machine. It involved the hand-gathering of glass (Douglas and Frank 1972: 178).

1889-present: Machine-made bottles (Jones and Sullivan 1985: 165).

Post 1892: Crown finish. Originally made with a finishing tool (Jones and Sullivan 1985).

1905-1982: "Owen’s" mark on bottle base (Miller and McNichol 2002).

1905-1920: 6 oz, 7 oz, and quart soda pop bottles standardized (Kaplan 1982).

1905: Owen's mark first appearts on beer, porter, ale, soda water, wine, brandy, milk and patent medicine bottles (Miller and McNichol 2002: 3).

1906: Owen's mark first appears on catsup bottles (Miller and McNichol 2002: 3).

1908: Owen's mark first appears on vinegar, grape juice, narrow mouth food bottles and European bottles (Miller and McNichol 2002: 3).

1910: Owen's mark first appears on fruit jars, packers ware, prescription ware, ammonia bottles, and Heinz bottles (Miller and McNichol 2002: 3).

1911: Owen's mark first appears on whiskeys, gallon packers, and small bottles from one-half to six ounce capacity (Miller and McNichol 2002: 3).

1912: Owen's mark first appears on carboys (Miller and McNichol 2002: 3).

1914: Blue glass, primarilly Bromo-Seltzer bottles, first produced by Owens machine (Miller and McNichol 2002: 8).

1917: Half of all bottles produced in the United States are made on Owens machines (Miller and McNichol 2002: 3).

1920-1930: 8 oz. bottles standardized (Kaplan 1982).

1924: 9 oz, 10 oz bottles standardized (Kaplan 1982).

Pre-1925: Hand-blown bottles (Jones and Sullivan 1985: 165).

1929-1931: Pepsi introduces the 12 oz. bottle (Kaplan 1982).

1934: Square paper milk container introduced (Busch 1987: 76).

1935: Non-returnable beer bottles introduced (Busch 1987: 77).

1935: "FEDERAL LAW FORBIDS SALE OR RE-USE OF THIS BOTTLE" mandated for all liquor bottles (Busch 1987: 75).

1948: Non-returnable soda bottles introduced (Busch 1987: 77).

1955: Coca-Cola introduces the 26 oz. bottle (Kaplan 1982).

1955-1960: 16 oz. bottle introduced (Kaplan 1982).

1958: Introduction of plastic 6-pack carriers (Kaplan 1982: 127).

1965: Non-returnable bottles or One Way bottles introduced (Kaplan 1982:106).

1970: Plastic soft drink bottles introduced (Kaplan 1982: 106).

1971: Plasti-shield bottles introduced by Owens-Illinois (Kaplan 1982:106).

1977: Introduction of PET bottle (polyethylene terathalate) (Kaplan 1982: 113).

1978: Wide-spread adoption of plastic pop bottles (Kaplan 1982: 109)

1978: 62% of soft drink bottles, 89% of beer bottles and 98% of milk containers were non-returnable (Busch 1987: 77).


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Bottles, Beer

1895-1910: Applied crown finish (Kroll 1976: 7).

1935: Introduction of stubby bottles as a response to the space-saving advertisements of can manufacturers (Cady 1976: 15; Kroll 1976: 7).

1939: "NO DEPOSIT, NO RETURN, NOT TO BE REFILLED" (Kroll 1976: 7).

1950: Only 2.6% of all packed beer was disposable (Kroll 1976: 7).

 

Cans, General

1934: Applied color label that could not wash off became commercially available (Kaplan 1982: 114).

1936: Soft drinks begin to appear in cans. Not very popular (Kaplan 1982: 114).

1940: Because tin became unavailable during World War II, the tin-free can was developed. Aluminum, tin-free steel, fiber/foil laminates were all developed during this period. A method for the very thin coating of tin was also developed. At least 9 different resins were also developed to coat steel cans (Sacharow 1978: 127).

1940 - 1945: Composite cans: foil lined paper board cans capped with metal were used for bisquits and motor oil (Sacharow 1978: 131).

1945: Aerosol sprays developed out of need for effective insecticides during jungle fighting (Sacharow 1978: 17; Kaplan 1982: 124).

1948: Resurgence in use of cans for soft drinks (Kaplan 1982: 114).

1950: Paper labels eliminated by applied color labels (Kaplan 1982: 114).

1953: Adoption of flat-top can for soft drinks (Kaplan 1982: 114).

1958: Only 17% of soft drink manufacturers using cans (Kaplan 1982: 117).

1959: Pepsi, Coca-Cola using cans (Kaplan 1982: 117).

1960: The last cone top cans were sold in the United States (BCCN 1985: 22; Sacharow 1978: 139).

1962: ALCOA introduced the pull tab opener: open ring design (Kaplan 1982: 117).

1963: Pull tab on aluminum can invented by Ermal Fraze (Petroski 1993: 199).

1963: Introduction of drawn and ironed aluminum can (Kaplan 1982: 120).

1969: 5% of cans aluminum (Kaplan 1982: 120).

1970: 90% of all soft drink cans had pull tab openers (Kaplan 1982: 117).

1971: Necked-in, soldered side seams, double decked (Kaplan 1982: 120).

1972: Two piece steel cans developed (Kaplan 1982: 124).

1974: Introduction of non-removable opener (Kaplan 1982: 120).

1974: 46% of beer cans aluminum; 20% of soft drinks are aluminum (Kaplan 1982: 120).

1978: Introduction of the "paper" can: plastic-coated, foil-lined, steel bottom, aluminum top (Kaplan 1982: 120).

1980: 66.1% of all soft drinks are sold in cans (Kaplan 1982: 120).

1980: Pull tab that does not separate from the can (Petroski 1993: 203).

1981: triple-necked cans (Kaplan 1982: 120).


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Cans, Beer

1935: First beer cans. Produced by the American Can Company, and used by Pabst Brewery. By end of the year, 36 companies were selling canned beer (BCCN 1985: 1, 5-6).

1940-1955: "Crowntainer" aluminum coated steel can, painted outside, hot wax inside, cone topped can (BCCN 1985: 21).

Pre-1942: Large letters "BEER" or "ALE" on cans (Cady 1976: 44).

1942-1945: Tin-plated cans reserved for exclusive use by the military. Words "WITHDRAWN FREE OF TAX" Olive drab or gray cans (BCCN 1985: 21).

1942: End of production of beer cans for civilians (Cady 1976: 15).

1950: Dropped use of IRTD statement on cans "INTERNAL REVENUE TAX PAID" (BCCN 1985: 22 Cady 1976: 43).

1953: One fourth of all beer sold in cans (Cady 1976: 15).

1954: Appearance of 16 oz. Beer can, as well as 10, 11, 14, and 15 oz. Cans (BCCN 1985: 22; Cady 1976: 15).

1959: Introduction of all-aluminum can by Coors (Wright 1976: 22).

1959: Introduction of the 7 oz. Coors can (BCCN 1985: 22).

1963: Hamm’s, Budweiser, Busch aluminum cans (Wright 1976: 22).

1963: First use of pull tabs (BCCN 1985: 22; Bull, et al. 1984: 10).

1964: Large number of breweries using all aluminum cans (Wright 1976: 22).

1965: Ring top pull tab. 65% of all beer cans had pull tabs (BCCN 1985: 22; Bull, et al. 1984: 10).

1965: Begin of gradual change to crimped cans (BCCN 1985: 23).

1969: Canned beer outsells bottled beer (Bull, et al. 1984: 10).

1975: Nearly 100% of all beer cans were easy-open tops (Wright 1976: 22).

1975: "Sta Tab" top (Reynolds Aluminum) (BCCN 1985: 23).

1984: Last straight-sided can (BCCN 1985: 23).


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Cigarettes

(For additional dates and history, see the Cigarette History compiled by Michael Pfeiffer)

1850’s: Widespread use during the Crimean War (Encyclopedia Britannica 1973 (5): 767-768).

1853: First manufactured in Havana (Encyclopedia Britannica 1973 (5): 767-768).

1853-1900: Cigarettes handmade (Encyclopedia Britannica 1973 (5): 767-768).

1860’s - 1880’s: Patents for machines to make cigarettes. Not used widely until 1880’s (Encyclopedia Britannica 1973 (5): 767-768).

1920: Cigarette consumption equaled cigars (Encyclopedia Britannica 1973 (5): 767-768).

1938: Half of all tobacco consumption was in cigarette form (Encyclopedia Britannica 1973 (5): 767-768).

Ca. 1942: Deletion of green coloring behind Lucky Strike bulls-eye (Sacharow 1978: 20).

1950: Three-fourths of all tobacco consumption was in cigarettes (Encyclopedia Britannica 1973 (5): 767-768).

1952: 1.4% of all cigarettes had filters (Encyclopedia Britannica 1973 (5): 767-768).

1960: 80% of all tobacco consumption was in cigarettes (Encyclopedia Britannica 1973 (5): 767-768).

1964: Surgeon General’s Advisory Committee found link between cigarettes and lung cancer (Encyclopedia Britannica 1973 (5): 767-768).

1966: Surgeon General’s warning appears on tobacco products (Encyclopedia Britannica 1973 (22): 46-47).

1969: Introduction of the disposable cigarette lighter (Pfeiffer 2002).

1970: 33% of all cigarettes had filters (Encyclopedia Britannica 1973 (5): 767-768).

1971: Health warning appears on all tobacco products (Encyclopedia Britannica 1973 (22): 46-47).


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Closures, Bottle

1857-1912: Hutchison stopper (Kaplan 1982: 128).

1892: Patent for the crown cap was awarded to William Painter (Kaplan 1982: 123).

1909: Introduction of crown-like closure with no corrugations in the skirt (Everette 1982: 168).

1909: Invention of composition cork for use as liner in crown caps (Lief 1965:25).

1912: Widespread adoption of the crown cap (Kaplan 1982).

1927: Charles E. McManus developed a way to granulate cork, for use in crown cap (Kaplan 1982: 124).

1930: Spot crowns (plastic lined) (Kaplan 1982: 125).

1933: Pilferproof roll-on closure for use on alcohol bottles (Everette 1982: 185).

1955: Introduction of solid, molded polyvinyl chloride lined crown. 0.235" I.007" skirt (Everette 1982: 168, 174; Ward et al. 1977: 239).

1956: Short-skirted crown cap (7/32") introduced (Ward et al. 1977: 239).

1957: Plastic liners in crown caps instead of cork were first used (Kaplan 1982: 124).

1965: Twist-off crown cap (Kaplan 1982: 131).

1965: Roll-on closure (Kaplan 1982: 131).

Ca. 1965: Elimination of cork-lined crown cap (Everette 1982: 168).

1966: Introduction of the "turn-off" crown cap, 4-threaded finish (Everette 1982: 168).

1966: Aluminum roll-on closure for beer bottles. 28 mm only size used for beer (Everette 1982: 182).

1977: Plastic bottle cap introduced (Kaplan 1982: 131).


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Plastics and Synthetics

1866: Polystyrene invented (fake rubber). Not used on a wide scale until the mid- 1950’s. Is most familiar to us as foam cups and other thermofoam products (Sacharow 1978: 93).

1869: First semi-synthetic plastic, celluloid, invented by John Wesley Hyatt (Friedl 1987; King 1991: 3).

1900: Invention of cellulose acetate, the "improved" cellulose. Glossy jewelry, toothbrush handles, eyeglass frames, soda straws, cellophane, and rayon. Many of these products are produced today (King 1991: 4).

1909: Bakelite invented by Leo H. Baekeland (King 1991: 5).

1918: First plant for production of cellulose acetate (celluloid), the first plastic (Sacharow 1978: 17).

1924: Beginning of production of cellophane (Sacharow 1978: 86).

1929: Urea-formaldehyde plastics, the first transparent synthetic plastics. Known as "Beatl" and "Beetleware." Included tablewares, cases for shavers and hair dryers, buttons, tabletops, and lampshades. Brittle, warps easily and fades (King 1991: 6).

1930’s: The Great Depression was largely responsible for the boom in packaging materials of all kinds, due to government subsidy of package designers; subsidies were meant to stimulate consumer interest in products through attractive packaging (Sacharow 1978: 19).

1930: First use of cellophane as a wrapping material (King 1991: 4).

1930: Scotch tape (adhesive-coated cellophane ) invented and produced by 3M (Allen 1995: 51).

1934 - 1976: Pliofilm introduced commercially by Goodyear. Rubber hydrochloride film. Thermoplastic film used as a heat sealing medium for flexible packaging; e. g. Saran Wrap (Sacharow 1978: 93).

Ca. 1935: Water proof cellophane invented by DuPont (Sacharow 1978: 19).

1936: Acrylic plastics introduced by Rohm and Hass Company, called "plexiglass." In 1937, DuPont introduced "Lucite," another form of acrylic plastic (King 1991: 6).

1937: Introduction of melamine-formaldehyde plastic, called Melamine. Still used widely today (King 1991: 6).

1938: Nylon plastics developed by DuPont, for bristles in toothbrushes, hosiery and undergarments (King 1991: 7).

1940: Discovery of polyethylene (flexible plastic) (Sacharow 1978: 88).

1945: Tupperware developed (King 1991: 7).

1946: Introduction of Saran Wrap ; PVDC copolymer film (Sacharow 1978: 95).

1954: Wide scale manufacture of polyester films, dimensionally stable, temperature resistant, barrier to odors and gases (Sacharow 1978: 94-95).

1957: Polypropylene invented. Used to laminate paper products (like potato chip bags) (Sacharow 1978: 91)

1961: Scotch Brand Magic Tape on acetate rather than cellophane (Allen 1995: 52).


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Other Artifacts

Ca. 1928: Toothpaste tubes were developed (Sacharow 1978: 154).

 

References Cited


ALLEN, OLIVER E.

  1995      "Sticky Business," Invention and Technology (winter): 48-52.

BCCN

    1985    "50 Years of Canned Beers," Beer Can Collectors’ News Report Special Edition.

BULL, DONALD, MANDRED FREIDRICH AND ROBERT GOTSCHALK

    1984     American Breweries. Bullworks, Trumbull, Connecticutt.

BUSCH, JANE

  1987      "Second Time Around: A Look at Bottle Reuse," Historical Archaeology 21(1): 67-80.

CADY, LEW

  1976      Beer Can Collecting: America’s Fastest Growing Hobby. Grosset and Dunlap, New York.

DOUGLAS, R. W. AND SUSAN FRANK

1972        A History of Glassmaking. G. T. Foulis, Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire.

ENCYCLOPEDIA BRITTANICA

1973       "Aluminum," Encyclopedia Britannica (1): 693-694, Chicago.

1973       "Cigarette," Encyclopedia Britannica (5): 767-768, Chicago.

1973       "Tobacco," 1973 Encyclopedia Britannica (22): 46-47, Chicago.

EVERETTE, J. F.

1982       "Bottle Closures," in Beer Packaging: A Manual for the Brewing and Beverage Industries, edited by Harold M. Broderick. Master Brewers Association of the Americas, Madison, Wisconsin.

FRIEDEL, ROBERT

1987      "The First Plastics," American Heritage of Invention and Technology (Summer): 18-23.

JONES, OLIVE AND CATHERINE SULLIVAN

1985       The Parks Canada Glass Glossary for the Description of Containers, Tableware, Flat Glass and Closures. Studies in Archaeology, Architecture and History. Parks Canada, Ottawa.

KAPLAN, SAMUEL R. (editor)

1982      Beverage World: 100 Year History 1882-1982 and Future Probe. Keller Publishing, Great Neck, New York.

KING, ROBERT

1991     "Plastics in Archaeological Sites: A Brief History." A paper presented to the Alaska Anthropological Association, Anchorage, Alaska.

KROLL, WAYNE L.

1976      Badger Breweries, Past and Present. Wayne L. Kroll, Jefferson, Wisconsin.

KYVIG, DAVID E.

1979      Repealing National Prohibition. University of Chicago, Chicago.

LIEF, ALFRED

1965     A Closeup of Closures: History and Progress. Glass Container Manufacturers Institute, New York.

MILLER, GEORGE L. AND TONY MCNICHOL

2002      "Dates For Suction Scarred Bottoms: Chronological Changes in Owens Machine-Made Bottles." Paper presented at the 2002 Annual Meeting of the Society for Historical Archaeology, Mobile, Alabama.

PETROSKI, HENRY

1993       The Evolution of Useful Things. Alfred A. Knopf, New York.

PFEIFFER, MICHAEL

  2002      Personal Communication. Email to Catherine H. Spude dated December 30, 2002. "I first saw a totally disposable cigarette lighter in 1969. My father had a plastics factory and he was given it as example to bid on making more. It was the summer I was home on leave from the army and was supposed to be going to Viet Nam. I think that is why he gave it to me. I still have that one in my collection."

SACHAROW, STANLEY

1978        A Packaging Primer. Magazines for Industry, New York.

WARD, ALBERT E., EMILY K. ABBINK AND JOHN R. STEIN

1977       "Ethnohistorical and Chronological Basis of the Navajo Material Culture," in Settlement and Subsistence Along the Lower Chaco River: The CGP Survey. University of New Mexico, Albuquerque.

WRIGHT, LARRY (editor)

1976 The Beer Can. Great Plains Living Press, Matteson, Illinois.


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