Museum Monday: Black Rock Beverage
By Claire Schmotzer
Black Rock Beverage was the flagship soda brand at Monroe Bottling Works in Western New York. The company still exists today- it’s now a beer and liquor distributor- but the sodas are long gone.
Joseph Lewicki started Monroe Bottling Works in 1925 and ran the company until 1955, when Alexander Michaels joined. Michaels took over the company in 1962. Black Rock Beverage boasted 20 flavors in the 1960s and had wide distribution- we have a bottle in our antique glass collection.
In 1969, the brand suffered when sodium cyclamate, an artificial sweetener was banned. Monroe Bottling Works took the high road- they stopped using the sweetener and disposed of product that contained it. The company took a hit, but managed to survive.
We don’t know how our bottle got from New York state to the Black Rock Desert of Nevada. We don’t know what flavor it was. But we’re grateful to have this reminder of the past from a company that was on the cutting edge of recycling. In 1959, the Niagara Frontier Bottling Association ran a bottle return campaign in New York. They gave cash deposits for empty bottles. We’re lucky that our bottle was both safe in Nevada and otherwise saved from the landfill.
While the Black Rock Desert isn’t the only black rock in the world, it’s interesting to learn about sister places and entities that share our name. Stop by the Last Chance Outpost Visitors Center to see the Black Rock Beverage Bottle and other Museum Monday treasures. Sign up to join us on a stewardship project or camp out to help keep our Black Rock sparkling clean like antique glass.