The Virtual Corkscrew Museum's Daily Newspaper
Sunday, February 8, 2004
Part 3 of 3 parts
Who Invented the Crown Cap Lifter?
Wirtz, Virginia - In their 1954 publication Indiana: From Frontier to Industrial Commonwealth* John D. Barnhart and Donald F. Carmony wrote:
"The Bernardin Bottle Cap Company was founded in 1881 in Evansville, by Alfred Louis Bernardin, Sr. This started the first manufacture of metal closures in not only the United States, but as far as is known, in the world. Since Mr. Bernardin was in the wine importing business and they experienced trouble with corks blowing out in ocean shipments, he devised a metal clamp to fit over the cork and down around the neck of the bottle with a metal strap that tightened the clamp and prevented the cork from blowing out the in transit. Later, Mr. Bernardin invented many other types of metal closures for glass containers that are still popular and in current usage. He invented the beer cap, or crown cap, currently used on beer and soft drink bottles."
Back in the late 1970s I was researching bottle opener and corkscrew patents and I was surprised to come across a patent for a "Bottle Uncapping Tool" that dated almost seven months before the William Painter patent. United States Patent Number 501,050 had been issued on July 11, 1893 to Alfred L. Bernardin of Evansville, Indiana with assignment to the Bernardin Metallic Cork Company.
I pulled out the Painter patent and noted that Bernardin applied for his patent on March 14, 1893 almost two months before Painter's June 5 application. The major difference was Bernardin's tool was as he wrote "fixed to a counter or other stationary support, to adapt the bottle to serve as a lever in removing the cap" and Painter's tool was a handheld device.
In early 1982, I located a Mr. Alfred L. Bernardin in Evansville, Indiana and inquire about the patents. In his reply, he writes:
"The Bernardin Bottle Cap Company was founded in 1881 by A. L. Bernardin, Sr., my grandfather. I have a book of some twenty patents during his career up to his death in 1916, including the bottle cap opener.
Mr. Bernardin also claimed to be the inventor of the beer crown. When their factory superintendent disappeared for a month and turned up in Baltimore, Maryland, he had been hired by five men who, I am told, were the founders of Crown Cork and Seal Company. Patent applications were filed by both companies and a law suit resulted. Bernardin won the first appeal, which was reversed back and forth through several courts. The superintendent apparently claimed to have been instrumental in the development, which as the basis of the law suits."
In an undated booklet Background to the Crown, Cecil J. Parker, Chief Chemist at the Southall Research Laboratories of Crown Cork Company, Limited, London, writes:
"William Painter, of English descent lived at Baltimore in Maryland. By trade he was a Mechanical Engineer and by nature a genius in things mechanical...We cannot know for certain how he became interested in the bottle closure problem, but as so many others were at that time, it is more than likely that his position in the engineering shop brought him into contact with an inventor who was having working models made of some form of stopper."
Was that "inventor" from Bernardin's factory?
"In the summer of 1891 William Painter took a holiday and while staying at a seaside resort on Rhode Island he drew up the design for an 'over the top' sealing cap, which was destined to revolutionize the bottling industry. In other words the 'Crown' was born."
Did the crown cap ideas originate in Evansville, Indiana? Did someone from Bernardin's factory find Painter in Maryland and present him with Bernardin's working models? It is apparent that both firms were manufacturing bottle closures during the time they came up with "bottle openers." Was it coincidence that they both filed their applications around the same time?
And most importantly, given the fact that Bernardin filed for his bottle opener patent first, is he not truly the inventor of the "Crown Cap Lifter"?
You be the judge.
Wirtz, Virginia - In yesterday's Roanoke Times we learned that a new corkscrew device may save stroke victims. The MERCI Retriever, invented by University of California scientists and licensed to Concentric Medical of Mountain View, California, will work as late as eight hours after a stroke, and remove bigger clots.
In the past twenty-four hours we have received over 100 emails from alert readers of The Daily Screw who have read about this device online and in newspapers throughout the world. We appreciate your response. Please keep us posted on future "corkscrew" spottings.
*Footnote to the Bernardin Story
Here is the full Bernardin copy from Barnhart and Carmony's 1954 publication Indiana: From Frontier to Industrial Commonwealth
" The Bernardin Bottle Cap Company, Inc., of Evansville, is America's first manufacturer of metal closures for glass containers. Alfred Louis Bernardin, II, is the third generation from the founder to be president of this notable enterprise, whose story is worthy of preservation in print as the record of an historic industry and of the men who labored for its success.
Born in Battle Creek, Michigan, September 22, 1910, Alfred Louis Bernardin, III, is the son of Alfred Louis Bernardin, Jr., and the former Mary McNally. His father, who died in 1922, was president of the Bernardin Bottle Cap Company, Inc. After graduation from high school and the LaSalle Military School at Oakdale, New York, their son completed his education in the Catholic University, Washington, D.C., and the University of Southern California, Los Angeles.
The Bernardin Bottle Cap Company was founded in 1881 in Evansville, by Alfred Louis Bernardin, Sr. This started the first manufacture of metal closures in not only the United States, but as far as is known, in the world. Since Mr. Bernardin was in the wine importing business and they experienced trouble with corks blowing out in ocean shipments, he devised a metal clamp to fit over the cork and down around the neck of the bottle with a metal strap that tightened the clamp and prevented the cork from blowing out the in transit. Later, Mr. Bernardin invented many other types of metal closures for glass containers that are still popular and in current usage. He invented the beer cap, or crown cap, currently used on beer and soft drink bottles. He later manufactured metal screw caps and still later experimented with applying colored lacquers and enamels to these caps before they were fabricated from sheet form. Others of his inventions were the first double shell cap, first cap to be used on catsup bottles, and many types of machines for the manufacturing and applying of these closures.
The plant was located on Northwest Fourth Street in the block immediately north of the Court House. Mr. Bernardin, Sr., died in 1916, leaving a daughter Emma, and a son, Alfred Louis, Jr. The latter continued to operate the company until his death in 1922. During this period an additional product was manufactured, consisting of metal cans for food products that were used during World War I. Later on the company added new products, such as the nationally known line of Bernardin two-piece mason caps for home canning.
Alfred Louis Bernardin, II, entered the business in 1933, and he is now its president. In 1948 a new and larger plant was built on West Maryland Street, occupying ninety thousand square feet, to accommodate larger production and afford manufacturing economies. Lithographing equipment and ovens were installed for the coating and lacquering and designing of sheets of tin. Machinery for manufacturing plastics caps was also installed. Recently some diversified lines have been added, such as metal typewriter ribbon boxes, aluminum containers for home freezing and storage of food leftovers, fabrication of aluminum foil for household use, and other diversified products. The employment currently averages approximately four hundred, and the products of the Bernardin Bottle Cap Company, Inc., are shipped into the forty-eight states."
©2004 Don Bull, Editor