Many suitable bottle closures were experimented with during the late 1800’s. Pressurized liquid that must be sealed tightly for travel always wanted to escape the various closures. Corks, marbles, porcelain stoppers, metal closures in various configurations all succeeded to some extent, but not enough. It took William Painter, an inventor from Maryland, to patent the metal bottle cap on February 2, 1892 and finally settle the matter of bottle closure. Soon after, he started the Crown, Cork & Seal Company in Baltimore.
From the 1890’s to the present, bottle caps have changed remarkably little, but there have been some tweaks over the years. The early crowns, from before 1902 or so, had 24 crimps around the skirt. That number was reduced over the years to the current 21 crimps on the skirt of a bottle cap. The inner lining of bottle caps has also evolved over years. Originally, and until approximately the 1920’s, the lining was a solid piece of shaved cork. Transitioning away from this to a slightly thinner and cheaper pressed composite cork liner began in the late 1920’s. It wasn’t until the early 1960’s that crown manufacturers began using a thin vinyl or plastic insert in the caps. Some countries outside the US kept cork liners until the 1970’s.
Overall though, the bottle caps of 120+ years ago are pretty similar to the ones used today, a real testament to the soundness of William Painter’s ingenious invention!