The oldest bottle on display didn’t have a copyright date, but we’d guess it dates from the late 1940s. This is a glass bottle with a metal screw-on cap, and all the graphics are silkscreened—no paper-sticker labels here. Also note the copyright line; Plastone was the original name of Turtle Wax. Company founder Benjamin Hirsch got the idea to call his product “Turtle Wax” while he was on a sales call in Turtle Creek, Wisconsin. He realized the name effectively communicated the “hard shell” protective properties of his wax.
Just like sports broadcasts and Donald Trump’s hair, consumer-product packaging is one of those things that changes so gradually that most consumers are scarcely aware of the subtle shifts. Even iconic brands are regularly tweaked, updated, or outright redesigned to look fresh and new in consumers’ eyes. As the years roll by, those original products gradually make the transition from “outdated” to “historical artifact.” If you’ve ever seen the “throwback” cans of Pepsi or Mountain Dew, or the retro boxes of cereal that are issued from time to time, you know what we’re talking about.
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At a recent automotive press event, we had the opportunity to check out a small display of historic Turtle Wax bottles from the company’s official product archive. We figured it could make for an interesting little study in consumer-product archeology, so we grabbed the ol’ smartphone and fired off a few quick snapshots of each bottle. This is not a comprehensive timeline, but it’s still a great look at how this well-loved brand has evolved over the decades.
LEFT: This bottle has a copyright date of 1965. While the bottle is still glass, the cap is now plastic. The bottle graphics are still silkscreened, and they now include black and yellow colors and more-detailed artwork. CENTER: The top label boasts that Turtle Wax was advertised in “The Saturday Evening Post,” “Reader’s Digest,” and the now-defunct “Look” magazine. RIGHT: Hey! This Turtle Wax must be tough: It was tested in Death Valley!
LEFT: This bottle is undated, but we’d guess it dates from the early to mid-1970s. The bottle is now translucent green plastic instead of glass. The Turtle Wax title font has gotten a bit fatter, but the mascot turtle is pretty much unchanged. Note the T U R T L E W A X letters molded into the bottle. When’s the last time you’ve heard any discussion about acid rain? RIGHT: The red section at the bottom of the label makes it clear that Turtle Wax had become a true international brand by this time, with sales centers in London, Stockholm, Vienna, Helsinki, and Sydney, to name a few. The racing turtle mascot featured in the send-away poster ad seems inspired by the 1968-1971 Dodge “Scat Pack” Super Bee.
LEFT: The present-day Turtle Wax bottle is noticeably flatter and wider than its predecessors, and the old turtle mascot has gotten a lot more stylized and swoopy-looking (he’s still rocking a top hat, however). The labels are now bilingual, too. RIGHT: It’s not just for cars anymore! The back of the bottle suggests non-automotive uses for Turtle Wax.
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