Looking Back at 70 Years of Nalgene—and Its Bizarre Rise in the Backpacking World

Nalgene 70th anniversary
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Seventy years ago, Emanuel Goldberg, a chemist in Rochester, New York, launched the Nalge Company to produce centrifuge bottles and storage tanks from polyethylene for labs. Compared with glass, Goldberg’s plastics were far more durable, and Nalge took off, eventually becoming part of Thermo Fisher Scientific, a $24 billion biotechnology behemoth. But a funny thing happened to Goldberg’s plastic “Nalgene” bottles: They became massively popular in backpacking circles, thanks to their indestructibility. Nalgene now sells millions per year and is synonymous with hiking. Here’s how a simple lab bottle became an outdoor staple.

Iconic Moments

1949

Emanuel Goldberg starts the Nalge Company to make plastic lab equipment. He names it after his wife, Natalie Levey Goldberg.

1960s

Scientists start carrying Nalgene bottles while camping because they prove far better than the canteens at Army surplus stores.

1980

Amid the Cold War, the U.S. hockey team defeats the Soviets in the Olympics. The U.S. team drank from lab-style Nalgene bottles with spray spouts.

1994

After years of the Boy Scouts using Nalgene bottles, the company finally decides to launch a consumer line—with one color, blue.

2002

Nalgene begins selling bottles in multiple colors and they become a hit on college campuses; sales double from year to year.

2014

Nalgene partners with Michelle Obama for the Drink Up campaign and spells its logo on the White House lawn with 2,000 bottles.

Nalgene by the Numbers:

  • 70K: People employed by Nalgene’s parent company, Thermo Fisher Scientific. Just seven are dedicated to Nalgene’s outdoor line.
  • 500+: The number of designs for consumer bottles, flasks, and storage containers that Nalgene sells today.
  • 6 Million: The number of bottles that Nalgene produces annually in its Rochester, New York, manufacturing facility.

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