I've seen numerous articles claiming that WWII affected the beer bottling industry which caused a change (reversion) from it being sold in brown glass bottles to green.

Sometimes the articles, such as here, say that brown glass was needed during the war which caused the shift. Sometimes, such as here, the claim is that after the war there was a shortage of brown glass and that is when the change was made.

My question first of all is which of these is true? Was the change made during or after the war?

Second of all, unassuming the change was made during the war, why would brown glass be needed during the war leaving the private industry with only green? And on the flip side, if the change was made post war, why was there only a shortage of brown glass?

  • 1
    Glass is colored with the addition of metal oxides. Perhaps the metal used in brown glass production was diverted to a war time need so the bottlers substituted a green oxide. Why color the glass at all? Some liquids have lower shelf lives when exposed to light and the coloring preserves them. The internet says sulfur is used to make amber colored glass, but sulfur is also used in gunpowder. Commented Jan 24, 2017 at 18:09
  • @Clint That's a great theory. Maybe someone can back it up. And yes the UV light effects the taste and smell of beer. That's the main focus of the linked articles.
    – user6591
    Commented Jan 24, 2017 at 18:16
  • @ClintEastwood guns haven't used traditional gunpowder (now known as "black powder") since the turn of the last century. The smokeless powder we now use has no sulfur in it.
    – RonJohn
    Commented Sep 23, 2017 at 0:18
  • I was about to ask this very question at Skeptics.SE because I too was very skeptical that brown glass was in such demand by industry and the military in WW II that it couldn't be used for beer bottles. On the other hand, the sulfur needed to make that brown glass was in high demand. Commented Oct 9, 2018 at 13:40
  • @David I'm not sure how doubling questions across SE works, but I would appreciate you asking there as the current answer here, while a good theory, still doesn't prove if or when it may have happened. Please ping me there if you do.
    – user6591
    Commented Oct 9, 2018 at 23:16

1 Answer 1


From Wikipedia's article on glass color:

  • Green glass of the sort used in bottles is produced by adding iron(II) oxide to glass.
  • Brown (technically, amber) glass is produced by adding sulfur, carbon, and iron salts to glass.

Sulfur is a critical industrial and military substance, and as such, "frivolous" uses such as coloring beer bottles would have been restricted during World War II. Iron(II) oxide, on the other hand, has few uses other than as a pigment. Sure, you can smelt it to produce steel, but the steel industry mostly used hematite and magnetite.

  • 1
    Sulfur was also a critical medical substance. While penicillin was discovered in 1928, mass production techniques were developed rather late in WWII. On the other hand, techniques for mass production of sulfa drugs had been developed prior to WWII. Sulfa pills were very widely distributed from the start of the conflict. The halazone water purification tablets used by both sides also contained sulfur. Commented Oct 9, 2018 at 13:32

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