Sunday, October 07, 2007

Did you know... (V)

... that the can opener was invented 48 years after invention of the can?

Food preservation in cans was patented in 1810 by the British merchant Peter Durand. The first commercial canning factory was opened in England in 1813. In 1846, tin cans could be manufactured at a rate of sixty per hour.

However, though Durand had figured out how to seal food into cans, he just left the consumer with the instruction: "Cut round the top near the outer edge with a chisel and hammer." [Source] This was complicated by the fact that the first tin-coated iron cans were made of thick metal, and often weighed more than the food they held. Usually, the cans were opened with heavy equipment by the clerk in the grocery store [Source].

The first can opener was patented in 1858, by Ezra Warner, and looked like a bent bayonet. It had the big advantage that the user pressed, rather than stabbed it, into the can. A metal guard kept the point from penetrating too far, to “perforate the tin without causing the liquid to fly out.” A second, curved blade could then be worked around the rim to finally remove the lid. Warner’s patent even claimed that “a child may use it without difficulty, or risk.” [Source]

It was only when thinner steel cans could be manufactured in the 1860s that a useful can opener could be invented. In 1866, J. Osterhoudt patented the tin can with a key opener that you can still find today on sardine cans [Source]. And the picture to the right shows a 21st century version of the can-opener.

I wonder whether, in some basement in England, there is a tin can with mixed pickles from 1812 (that however nobody can open with Black&Decker).

So, if you have a great idea don't forget instructions how to open the can, and keep in mind it might take some decades for the details to work out.

See also: Did you know...

or that bubblewrap was a complete flop with its original marketing idea?


  1. Bee,

    That's the best argument I have heard for string theory in some time. ;)

  2. But the bubble wrap story is a good argument too.

  3. Both stories show it might take time and perseverance to discover the true potential of an idea, or - as in the case of bubble wrap - even to discover an useful application. That goes for string theory as well as for other investigations which upon first sight seem to be useless or flawed just because one doesn't know what to do with them.

  4. Dear Bee,

    the can opener was invented only 48 years after the can? That sounds really crazy! Anyway, somehow people seem to have managed to use and open cans before.

    But that reminds me of a story I once have heard about the perishing of the Franklin expedition in the Canadian Arctic in 1845/46. It seems that the men died either from lead poisoning, or from botulism, but in both cases this was caused by canned food. Maybe some of them would have survived if they had not succeeded in opening their cans.

    Best, Stefan

  5. WD-40 to make things go.
    Duct tape to make things stop.
    Primacord for everything else.

  6. So maybe we just need an opener for that beautiful can of Fermilab's primordial soup?

    We already have an an incredible amount of accelerator data. Whether or not higher-energy machines give us more, I think we just need a new way to make use of what we've got.

  7. For the cost of a new accelerator, you could fund a huge number of independent researchers working on can openers.

  8. Uncle Al, instead of the cheap duct tape from the usual stores, you should get some of the professional stuff from an HVAC supply store. ;-) In fact, you'd probably find all kinds of things you'd like in one of those places.


COMMENTS ON THIS BLOG ARE PERMANENTLY CLOSED. You can join the discussion on Patreon.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.