Today, most households have a can opener, and that’s because nearly everybody has some type of canned food at home. And there are many different can openers, such as the minimalistic ones that you have to push into the can, the more modern version with safety cut mode and even fully automatic openers. It is a standard tool in the kitchen, but did you know that the first can opener wasn’t invented until almost 50 years after the first can? Let me tell you the history of the can opener!
Iron Cans, a Hammer and a Chisel
The story of canned food started in 1795 when the scientist Nicolas Appert, won an innovation prize for his technique of preserving food in glass jars.
It was Napoleon himself, who had offered the prize, as he was searching for an effective preservation method to support his troops in field. Then, in the early 1800s, the British merchant Peter Durand received a patent from King George III for the invention of a can as we know it today. As these first cans were rather a niche item – not least because they were produced with a rate of six per hour – and made mostly from iron, there was no need for a specialised can opener. Furthermore, as the cans were very heavy and as thick as half a centimetre, the manufacturer’s suggestion was to open it with a hammer and chisel.
The Modern Can Opener
The first patent for a real can opener was signed by Ezra J. Warner on January 5, 1858.
Back then, tin cans started to replace the heavy iron cans. This first opener worked like a bayonet and a sickle, as the blade punctured the can, and the sickle lifted the lid. Although this invention wasn’t a real success in public, it really helped the US Army during the Civil War and therefore became popular among many people. This tool was mostly used in grocery stores where the cans were opened for the customers.
In 1870, William Lyman finally invented the can opener we actually use today. The new tool included a rolling wheel, which cuts around the rim of the can. This very easy-to-use invention was a major success and laid the foundation for all further versions of can openers. In 1932, for example, the first electric can opener was sold, which operated on a similar principle.
It is by the way always a good idea to keep one of these classic openers at home, if you need to open a can, but your electric opener is out of power. 😉