[Ads-l] 99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall - about flies?

Peter Reitan pjreitan at HOTMAIL.COM
Wed Nov 9 02:17:41 UTC 2022

I recently posted an updated history of “99 bottles of beer on the wall.”  That song was derived from an earlier song, “99 Blue Bottles Hanging on the Wall.”  The significance of the blue bottles or how or why a bottle is “hanging on the wall” are not explained in the song, and I had not found any smoking gun answering the questions.

I speculated that the “blue bottles” could be a blue-bottle fly (like a large house fly), or a blue glass hand grenade fire extinguisher.  I shared my post here a few days ago.

Since then, however, Garson O’Toole alerted me to a single reference from 1924, recounting an incident in 1903, in which the writer believed that when they sang the song in 1903 they were singing specifically about the blue bottle hand grenades.

My post here: https://esnpc.blogspot.com/2022/11/birds-bottles-and-flies-early-history.html

[Begin excerpt]. . . The Toledo Convention began with the Blue Bottle song, which lasted for several years and was never concluded. It started on an evening trolley ride with “Ninety-nine blue bottles hanging on the wall . . . . They were the fire extinguisher bottles so commonly used in those days. . . . .[end excerpt]

“The Glazing Globe,” The Painters’ Magazine and Paint and Wall Paper Dealer, November 1924, page 39.

Case closed, right? I guess my speculation about blue bottle grenades was correct

But no!  Using a new search term (“blue bottle song”) I started looking for more support – and instead found support (of sorts) for my other speculation.  It turns out that there was an earlier song, “Three Blue Bottles,” which was also a backward county song, but in which “blue-bottles” sitting on a “mile-stone” fly away one at a time.

[Begin excerpt] Two blue-bottles, two blue-bottles, Two blue-bottles sat on a mile-stone -
One flew away, and then
One blue-bottle, one blue-bottle, One blue-bottle sat on a mile-stone -
Two more came, and then,
Three blue-bottles, three blue-bottles, Three blue-bottles sat on a mile-stone, &c &c.[end excerpt]

Adeline; or, Mysteries, Romance, and Realities of Jewish Life, Volume II, London, Partridge, Oakey, & Co, 1854, page 194.

That song seems clearly to be the immediate predecessor of “99 blue bottles hanging on the wall.”  The impetus for the change in lyrics may have been the new hand grenade bottles.  So it’s possible that both speculations were correct.  It’s interesting (to me) in any case.

The “Three Blue Bottles” song appears to be a later variant of an earlier nursery rhyme about “two birds sitting on a stone” who fly away one at a time.

Interestingly, there is a later elaboration on the “two birds” song that expands it to ten, and lists ten different ways in which the birds disappear.  That song was written a decade before Septimus Winner and Frank Green wrote their versions of “Ten Little Indians” and “Ten Little N[-words].”  It seems to be an inspiration for their version of the “Ten Little” backwards counting songs.

I put some of that in this post, but plan a longer full treatment of “Ten Little Indians” in the near future.

You can see my new post, with the additional “blue bottle” and hand grenade corroborating references, here:

Sent from Mail<https://go.microsoft.com/fwlink/?LinkId=550986> for Windows

From: Peter Reitan<mailto:pjreitan at HOTMAIL.COM>
Sent: Thursday, November 3, 2022 5:40 PM
Subject: Re: 99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall - about flies?

---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
Poster:       Peter Reitan <pjreitan at HOTMAIL.COM>
Subject:      Re: 99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall - about flies?

I revisited my 99 bottles research and uncovered one more, perhaps more sat=
isfying possible origin story.

There were glass hand grenade fire extinguishers that were mass-marketed st=
arting in late-1883, and into 1884, at about the same time the song, =9399 =
blue bottles hanging on the wall=94 appeared in print.

Many of the grenades were made of blue, bluish green or green glass.  The l=
argest manufacturer even trademarked blue or bluish-green as the color of t=
heir glass bottles.  The grenades were frequently hung on walls, sometimes =
in great quantities.

I updated my post with information about the =93blue bottle=94 grenades han=
ging on walls.


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