So, you’ve dug up a bottle. It is dirt-encrusted and you dust and wash it to get a better look. Maybe it says “E. C. Lane” or “Little Falls Bottling Works.” You’re curious. You want to know more about this mysterious Lane guy, or the bottling works. Perhaps you think the bottle is rare and valuable. What is it worth, anyway?
While staff at the Morrison County Historical Society (MCHS) can’t appraise your bottle to determine its monetary value (it’s not legal for us to do so), we can suggest that you do a little online research to see what such a bottle is going for on the free market. We’re even more useful at helping you uncover the history of your bottle.
Let’s start with this Lane fellow. Edward C. Lane moved to Little Falls, Minnesota, around 1891. He was originally from Goodhue County and came to this city about a year after marrying Odila Burkard. According to Lane’s obituary, when he got to Little Falls, “he bought a bottling works.” (LFDT, November 4, 1912) The operative word here is “bought.” That suggests that a bottling works was already in existence when Lane arrived. The 1890s saw the height of a boom era in Little Falls after construction of the third dam and the subsequent influx of several large industries. One of these industries very well could have been a bottling works, or possibly a glass-blowing factory, but a search of archival resources at MCHS turned up no evidence of a pre-existing facility. This leaves an historical loose end.
The history of the Little Falls Bottling Works is pretty clear from E. C. Lane forward. Lane appears in the 1892 Little Falls directory as the proprietor of a “pop factory,” although the address of the business is not listed. Turning again to Lane’s obituary, it states that “his factory was moved from one location to another until 1903 when it was moved into its present location on Fifth avenue northeast.” (LFDT, Nov. 4, 1912) The obit is wrong on two accounts. Lane built his new pop factory of brick in 1904 on Fourth Avenue Northeast, between Sixth and Seventh Streets. (LFDT, May 24, 1904)
While some of the bottles from Lane’s factory are labeled “E. C. Lane,” by 1907 he was using the name Little Falls Bottling Works for his business. (1907/08 LF City Directory) The collections of MCHS contain several E. C. Lane bottles. A note concerning one of them suggests that the bottles were hand-blown, which is very likely from the appearance of the bottles. They have bulbous mouths and bubbly glass, and the bottles are not absolutely uniform in size. There is the puzzle of seams along the sides and how Lane could have imprinted his name in the glass, but this was accomplished by blowing the glass inside a mold. Before the first patent for an automated glass blowing machine was issued in 1899, the blowing was done with human breath.
Edward Lane died suddenly of a ruptured appendix on November 3, 1912. His wife, Odila, continued operating the bottling works. One of her employees was Clarence Sprandel, who, along with his brother Charles W. Sprandel, purchased the pop factory in 1914, officially taking possession of it on April 1 that year. (LFDT, April 3, 1914) According to the 1916/17 Little Falls directory, the factory operated under the names Little Falls Pop Factory and Little Falls Bottling Works.
A couple of years later, potential competition for the Little Falls Bottling Works appeared on the scene in the form of Elias F. Brown and partners, one of whom was Frank Kiewel. Brown & Co. intended to build a new soft drink factory at 409 Third Street Northeast, which would open on January 1, 1917. Their plans changed by November 1916, when they purchased the Little Falls Bottling Works from the Sprandel brothers.
There is a hint of the daily operations of the soft drink factory from an accident report filed with John Vertin for insurance purposes. (Document on file at MCHS) Two employees, Elias’s nephew, Ethan Brown, Jr., age 19, and Harry Smetzer, age 21, were both cut by glass in July 1922. They worked six days per week and were paid fifteen dollars per week.
Brown & Co. sold the bottling works to Henry J. Minar and L. E. Hart in 1929. Minar was from Browerville and moved to Little Falls “to have charge of the business.” Hart, who had a business in Long Prairie, stayed in Long Prairie. (LFDT, March 4, 1929) Upon their takeover, they remodeled the factory.
Minar regularly added new equipment and products to the factory over the years he owned and managed it. In January 1930, a new filling machine was installed to the tune of $4,000 that could fill seventy-five cases of pop per hour. It automatically put “the exact amount of syrup in each bottle” and then filled each with carbonated water. (LFDT, Jan. 21, 1930) In August 1934, the Little Falls Bottling Works got a franchise to manufacture Coca Cola, which meant more improvements in order to meet the specifications of production for “this nationally-known drink.” (LFDT, August 6, 1934)
Along with the constant upgrades to the physical plant (at some point that brick building became stucco), Minar’s factory underwent several name changes. Minar and Hart officially called the business the Little Falls Bottling Company, although it was still informally called the Little Falls Bottling Works. When the Coca Cola franchise was purchased, the name changed to the Coca Cola Bottling Works. In the 1937 Little Falls Telephone Directory, the name was back to Little Falls Bottling Works, which indicates that the company was no longer a Coca Cola franchise. In 1938, the Little Falls Bottling Company name returned and the ad in the phone book shows that Seven Up could be had, along with other drinks. “YOU LIKE 7 UP . . . AND IT LIKES YOU!” It was a sign of things to come. Minar purchased a Seven-Up franchise sometime between 1938 and 1943 because by the time the 1943 telephone directory was released, the company was called the Little Falls 7-Up Bottling Company. By 1945, Little Falls was dropped from the name and the factory became Seven-Up Bottling Company.
Henry Minar died in 1952, but the business kept going when his son Jim bought it. Jim had been working in the factory since 1936, starting as a bottle washer and case packer while in high school. Jim continued his father’s legacy of upgrading equipment and was still operating the Seven-Up Bottling Company in 1978. (LFDT, Oct. 21, 1978) A note in the files of MCHS says that he sold the business to Robert Gans of St. Cloud in November 1979, but no source has been found to confirm this. The Seven-Up Bottling Company remained in operation until 1991-92, after which its listing disappeared from the local phone book.
And now you know more about that crusty old bottle of yours than you probably wanted to know.
By Mary Warner
Copyright 2007, Morrison County Historical Society