Did you know that can openers were invented after cans? But why was the can opener invented after cans? It has a little to do with progression of the food preservation industry, and a lack of a real need to make opening the cans easier.
In a modern world where we take so much for granted, the humble can opener often just sits idle in the kitchen drawer, unnoticed and under appreciated. Though the need for the once often used kitchen utensil is now diminishing with new developments in the canning industry, and less reliance on tinned food, there was actually a time where there were no can openers, but there was still canned food. In fact, can openers were actually invented 83 years after cans were first introduced. This is despite most people believing that it was 48 years later. We will explain more below.
Why was the can opener invented after cans?
Possibly a lack of forethought perhaps, but the development of canned food was a revolution in food preservation. The first canned food appeared in the Netherlands in 1772, and were mainly used by the Dutch navy. This is where the discrepancy between the time that cans were invented. Even though the Dutch were using canned food, they never placed a patent on the product, so the recognition doesn’t go to them.
The process of canning food back then was only a little different to how it is done today. Freshly caught salmon were cleaned, boiled in brine, smoked and placed in tin-plated iron boxes that were much sturdier than the tins we see today. They were also often much heavier than the food they contained. Think of an air tight safe and you probably won’t be far off. In 1810 Peter Durand patented preserved tin food. It wasn’t until 1855 that Robert Yeates, a cutlery and surgical instrument maker in England invented the first claw ended, hand lever tool for opening cans. Prior to this invention the cans often came with instructions on how to open them such as “Cut round the top near the outer edge with a chisel and hammer.” But the years still don’t add up. Let’s look at why the 48 year mark that states that can opener were invented after cans is often quoted, but is wrong.
Peter Durand is credited as being the inventor of tinned food in 1810. But it was actually the Dutch who started the process much earlier in 1772. But the first openers entered the market in 1855, meaning that when worked out from the 1810 mark only comes to 45 years. The problem with dates is because many people credit an American, Ezra Warner, for the invention. He developed an instrument similar to, but more complex that Robert Yeates’ contraption. This model was adopted by the US military, but was not released to the general public due to safety concerns. In 1865 a new design was released, often with Bully beef cans, that more closely resembled the design of Yeates’ opener.
The most familiar can opener that we use today, the rotating wheel type can opener was patented in July 1870 by William Lyman of Meriden, Connecticut.