The First Canned Beer

Beer. One of humanity’s most popular drinks, although falling in popularity in recent years. A whopping 6.3 billion gallons of beer are consumed each year… just by Americans. It’s actually credited with helping save humanity and helping us advance as a species. So it’s really no surprise that many people reach for an ice-cold can of beer at the end of the day.

Visitor7, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

People don’t tend to think about the can their beer is stored in, if indeed it is in a can, and not a bottle. The first beer can was developed in Jersey City, NJ at a company called the “American Can Company”, for the Gottfried Krueger Brewing Company. In 1935, the first 2,000 cans were delivered in Richmond Virginia. These early cans are not quite as familiar as the cans being used today. The pull-tab wasn’t yet invented, and the cans were not the light aluminum of today’s cans. The pull-tab wouldn’t be invented until 1959 by Ermal Fraze. The first beer cans were either opened with a chisel and hammer, churchkey, or a can opener, whichever was closest at hand.

Canning was originally invented in 1809 by Nicolas Appert in France as a way to store food for long periods of time without it going bad. By 1812 the first American canning factory had opened in New York City. While canning worked well for food, canning beer without losing the taste, carbonation, or color was difficult. The beer can also had to be able to withstand a much higher internal pressure. Food cans tend to have an internal pressure of around 35 pounds per square inch. Beer cans need to be able to handle pressures of 80 pounds per square inch- considerably higher than the standard cans for food.

Despite these challenges, canning beer was a lucrative idea. Cans were easier to store, easier to ship, and faster to fill. The American Can Company thickened the walls and seams of the cans and lined them with Vinylite. This plastic lining kept the metal from contacting the beer and contaminating the taste. Other canners, such as Continental and National Can Company, would later use enamel or enamel and wax.

Finally, in 1935, the first cans were filled and ready. The Gottfried Krueger Brewing Company delivered 2000 cans to Richmond Virginia to test the response of consumers. And they loved it! 91% of those who tried it approved, leading Krueger to approve larger runs of the canned beer. Other brewers and canners quickly followed suit.

Some brewers were unable or unwilling to change their bottling lines to suit cans over glass bottles, so the “cone top” can quickly became popular as well.

CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=106839582

The beer can would continue to evolve. In 1962, the easy open pull tab was added to the design of most beer cans. This allowed for the cans to be opened without having to use any tools, similar to the cans we use today. These weren’t fixed to the cans and were easily removed until 1975 when the fixed version we use today entered the canning world.

Today, the sale of beer cans has outpaced the sale of bottled beer. Which do you prefer? Let us know in the comments below! Like what I do and want to leave a tip? Click on the coffee cup on the left!

Want to know more? Check out these links!

Steel Canvas “A Brief History of the Beer Can

History- “First Canned Beer Goes on Sale”

Decades- “A Visual History of the Beer Can”

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Jackie Standaert

I'm an office worker by day, a historian by night. At some point, I'll have enough money saved to get my Ph.D. in History, but for now, my B.A. will have to do.

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