A Brief History of Bottled Water

updated May 1, 2019
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(Image credit: Christine Gallary)

Bottled water is easy to stow in your gym bag, and a must for your at-home disaster-preparedness kit. However, its meteoric rise since the 1970s has had a negative impact on the environment, and the battle between bottling brands is hiking up the cost of our planet’s most important, precious resource.

Luckily numerous government agencies are regulating the industry — in the U.S., both the Environmental Protection Agency and the Food and Drug Administration keep steady watch — to minimize any negative effects and promote practical recycling measures. This is more and more necessary, since it is projected that in 2017 we’ll consume 103 billion gallons of bottled water worldwide.

Want to know how we got here? Here’s a brief overview.

A Brief History of Bottled Water


Water is first bottled for sale in the United Kingdom’s Holy Well bottling plant. The practice grows popular with the bottling of mineral spring water across Europe and the U.S. in the 1700s, since the natural springs are believed to have healing and therapeutic effects. For this reason, bottled water is often sold as a medicinal remedy in pharmacies until the 1900s.


In an effort to mimic the fizziness of mineral water, Johann Jacob Schweppe manufactures carbonated water in Geneva, Switzerland, founding the eponymous Schweppes Company.


Carbonated water starts its boom in the U.S. after Joseph Hawkins receives a patent to produce “imitation mineral water.” Soon after, production booms, thanks to advances in bottling speed and decreases in glass costs. This, coupled with the public’s fear of cholera and typhoid, leads to millions of bottles being sold annually in the U.S. by the mid-1800s.


An English doctor ends the waterborne typhoid epidemic with chlorination, which uses chlorine to kill dangerous bacteria. The process is soon introduced in other countries as well. The demand for purified bottled water wanes.


Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles are patented. They are the first plastic bottles that can contain the pressure of carbonation, thus creating a much cheaper alternative to bottling than was possible with glass.

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1977 to 1981

Perrier positions itself as “Earth’s First Soft Drink” with a series of print and television ads, benchmarking the moment when bottled water begins its commercial dominance (although the initial boom is just for sparkling mineral water — not flat water).

Early 2000s

The tap vs. bottled war is fully engaged, with beverage companies playing to consumers’ fears of illness and contamination from tap sources. One major player in the assault on tap water is Brita filters, with ads that say “Tap and toilet water come from the same source. Don’t you deserve better?”


Thanks to EPA regulation, the average weight of a 16.9-ounce PET plastic water bottle is down 47.7 percent from the year 2000, clocking in at just 9.89 grams.


U.S. annual consumption reaches 9.67 billion gallons — that’s an average of 30.8 gallons per person. Residents of Louisiana, Texas, and Arizona consume the most, but as a whole we’re drinking more bottled water and less tap water (36 gallons fewer than we did in 1980), fueling domestic bottled water sales of $11.8 billion.

Want to go against the tide? Try one of these water bottles with built-in filters.