Why Did Ketchup Bottles Turn Upside Down?

December 21, 2020

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It improves everything from fries to meatloaf—so we found out what made ketchup flip.

In olden times, the good people of this world had to endure hardships like walking to school uphill both ways, TV shows being interrupted by commercials, and dialing *69 to find out who just called the landline.

They also had to watch ketchup do that long, slow slog from bottle to burger. Once the critical mass got moving, it would inevitably clog at the skinny neck. After losing patience while tapping the "secret" spot on the bottle, a knife or finger would get poked through just in time for a giant burst to plop out. The result? An avalanche of ketchup all over your plate of fries, and most likely, your pants.

"You'll wait for your ketchup and you'll like it" was the unofficial thinking until 2002 when the whole ketchup world got turned upside down. But before we get to that story, let's rewind and take a gander through ketchup's long, storied history.

Ketchup, or if you prefer catsup (originally kê-tsiap in Hokkien Chinese), has existed in one form or another since around 300 B.C. in China, where it got its tangy flavor from fermented fish (not a tomato in sight). Thanks to global trade, the Brits got a taste of the condiment in the 1700s and tried to recreate the sauce at home, using everything from oysters to lemons—but no tomatoes. 

It wasn't until 1812 when Philadelphian James Mease introduced tomatoes (or as he called them "love apples") into the recipe that tomato-based ketchup was finally born. Later still, in 1876 came the famous ketchup formula from a determined culinary genius named Henry John Heinz. His company, Heinz, now sells about 650 million bottles of the sweet and salty stuff a year.

It was Heinz that introduced the upside-down squeezable bottle in 2002, the Easy Squeeze! with the catchphrase, "Ready When You Are.” But it's not Heinz that came up with the bottle's design, one that so effortlessly squeezes out ketchup without any leaks or farting noises (a problem that had so embarrassingly plagued other squeezables). 

The genius behind the no-mess upside-down bottle is Paul Brown, the owner of a precision-molding shop in Midland, Michigan. He, along with his mold-maker Tim Socier, created a valve with slits that open when pressed and close when released. This engineering marvel allows contents to flow freely when squeezed, with nary an extra drip when squeezing is over.

Brown created the valve with shampoo in mind, but it got picked up by Gerber for sippy cups and eventually for Heinz ketchup, creating a perfect no-mess ketchup application with every squeeze. Quite the journey for a plastic bottle to take. Oh, and Brown? He walked away $13 million richer. Not bad for a day's squeeze.

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