Ahead of the curve

ATLANTA - As James McDonald clutched tightly the Coke bottle in front of him, he looked a little bit like the proverbial kid in a candy shop.


Mr. McDonald, a collector of Coke products from McDonough, Ga., had just been handed the first bottle to roll off the production line housed at the New World of Coca-Cola, set to open May 24.

"I couldn't resist putting my hand out there first," said Mr. McDonald, who has been collecting the company's items for 25 years.

He was among a select group of collectors who got the opportunity Thursday to see the museum's production line crank up for the first time. Officials with the New World of Coca-Cola say they need to start making the bottles now so they can handle the first wave of guests next month.

The production line answers a long-standing question that many visitors to the current, smaller attraction have often asked: When do we get to see the bottles being filled with Coke? The answer, at least until the production line was added to the plans for the new museum in late 2005, was never.

Many of the parents who took their children to the museum could remember tours of bottling plants years ago, a practice that has since stopped because of health and safety concerns.

"We're re-creating something that a lot of people experienced growing up," said Phil Mooney, the curator of the World of Coca-Cola.

There are a few differences between the production line at the New World of Coca-Cola and those that produce a bottle of Coke for the supermarket.

"Bottleworks" slows down the process to produce 20 bottles a minute. A Coke factory produces 10-20 times that number in the same period.

The new feature focuses on one of the company's most treasured trademarks. Coca-Cola's "contour" bottle is one of the most recognizable pieces of glass on earth. Mr. Mooney cites one anthropologist who has said the shape of the bottle is second only to the egg in the number of people worldwide who can identify it.

The shape was developed largely to answer a marketing need. Before 1915, when the bottle was introduced, everything from beer to soft drinks came in bottles with flat sides.

"Contour gave us a distinction in the marketplace," Mr. Mooney said.

Every visitor to the museum will get one of the bottles, though it will cost more to get in. Adults will now pay $15 a person, up from $9 at the current attraction.

Reach Brandon Larrabee at (678) 977-3709, or brandon.larrabee@morris.com.