Evolution of a Design – The Soda King Syphon

Soda King Syphon advertisement. Washington Post - September 9, 1935

Soda King Syphon advertisement. Washington Post – September 9, 1935

 

The syphon bottle was a must for any home bar in the 1930’s. And Soda King produced the best designed ones. The Walter Kidde Sales Company, originally a construction company, became a pioneer in the fire suppression business. Kidde purchased the Rich Company’s on-board ship fire extinguishing system in 1918. Changing the method of suppression from steam to carbon dioxide proved very successful. As a result of the use of pressurized c02 the company diversified into the syphon bottle business in the mid-1930’s.

Sparklet Ad

New York Times Sparklet Ad. November 8, 1933.

The Sparklets Company dominated the soda syphon field in the early 1930’s. This is supported by how many of their bottles are available in antique stores today. The Sparklet syphon has a timeless, classic design of a silver basket weave mesh over a Czech glass bottle topped by a chrome syphon. They were imported from England and sold in finer stores for $5.00 ($92.50 in 2016) in the early 1930’s. A heavy sales campaign began with the Christmas season of 1933 and the repeal of prohibition.

 

Soda King Bottle

Chrome Plated Soda King Syphon Bottle, 1935.

 

 

The Walter Kidde Sales Company introduced the Soda King in 1935 to get in on the syphon bottle action. The original design only lasted about a year and was the most whimsical of the any of the syphon bottles. The chrome plated casing featured an engraved scene of waves and fish swimming along the bottom. The viewing windows along three sides of the bottle look like bubbles rising from the fish. Stamped in red letters near the top is the fill limit mark. None of the subsequent designs would be this elaborate.

 

 

1936 Soda King Syphon

The new Soda King Syphon Bottle. 1936

While the first Soda King bottle had a fun design, it must have been costly to make. By the end of 1936 a simplified version became available to stores. This new syphon weighed significantly less than the first one. Gone also were the fish, the waves and the “bubble” windows. A set of painted black bands of varying widths now encircled the bottom of the bottle.  Only two sets of windows in straight lines ran up the sides. A black Bakelite syphon replaced the original chrome one.

Four days after Christmas 1936 Bullock’s department store in Los Angeles ran an  advertisement (seen below) featuring the new Soda King bottle. This ad is the earliest print reference to the new design that I’ve seen.

 

 

LA Times Bullock's Ad.

Bullock’s Department Store advertisement. December 29, 1936. Los Angeles Times.

 

 

While this new design was simpler to produce it too only lasted  a couple of years. It would return in the 1950’s with an aluminum case and minus its stripes. In the works and just in time for the 1939 New York World’s Fair, came a completely redesigned Soda King. This new bottle can be best described as “the syphon of tomorrow”. Co-designed by Worthen Paxton (1905-1977) and famed industrial designer Norman Bel Geddes (1893-1958), this syphon is now part of many museum collections, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Manhattan and The Dallas Museum of Art.

 

 

Norman Bel Geddes

Norman Bel Geddes, circa 1937. Image from Bettmann / Corbis.

 

In stores for the 1938 Christmas shopping season, the new streamlined designed Soda King bottle only lasted a couple of years. I do not know the reason for the short life span for this model. It might have been difficult to produce or it did not function well or it was just too modern or avant-garde for people’s taste.

 

Barker Bros. Ad

Barker Bros. Advertisement. Soda King bottle at bottom left. Los Angeles Times, November 27, 1938

 

What ever the reason, by Christmas 1941 Soda King syphon bottles of more traditional designs had replaced it in stores. The latest advertisement that I could find with the Bel Geddes-Paxton is the one below.

 

Chicago Daily Tribune ad for the Soda King. August, 1941.

The last known advertisement for the Bel Geddes-Paxton Soda King Syphon Bottle. Chicago Daily Tribune August 8, 1941.

 

The Norman Bel Geddes-Worthen Paxton Soda King is high on my list of wanted Art Deco collectibles. To date I’ve only seen one and it had a price tag of $450.00, which is much more than I am willing to pay. But if I keep looking someday I might stumble across one at a price (hopefully) less than $100.00. I did find a 1935 style chrome Soda King  (the one with the fish on it) at the Hell’s Kitchen Flea Market in Manhattan not too long ago. And at a price of $60.00 it was too good to pass up.

 

 

The Chrome Soda King has found its place of honor. It sits on top of my little Art Deco dry bar in the hallway of my house. Unfortunately, like the other syphon bottles I own it does not work. The syphon mechanism is more complicated than it appears. The rubber gaskets have dried up and no longer form a proper seal. Repair costs far outweigh the value of the bottle. Still, as a purely decorative piece they add a nice Deco touch.

 

 

Anthony & Chris (The Freakin’, Tiquen Guys)

If you enjoyed this post check out this earlier one on vintage cocktails:

Cocktails for two . .  .  or more

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3 thoughts on “Evolution of a Design – The Soda King Syphon

  1. JJ Lair

    As I read this, I realized every comedy of the 1930 and 1940’s owes a debt to this invention and I never gave it any thought. What a great idea for a story and I really learned a thing or two.

    Reply

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