Although the question – “when was the can opener invented?” is hardly discussed in schools today, there’s no harm in paying tribute to one of the most undervalued kitchen tools! The humble yet highly useful can opener has been around longer than most people will realise. In fact, the first can opener appeared way back in 1858. To be more precise, the patent for the can opener was filed on January 5th of that year. The brains behind it? Someone by the name of Ezra J Warner.
Since then, can openers have not changed that much. After all, when something as simple as a can opener is capable of working as well as it can, then why change it?
Before the Can Opener
Prior to the can opener, you had iron cans instead of the thinner steel cans that we have today. With the older cans, you practically required a hammer and chisel to get to the canned food inside, so it was barely working. Also, that was the manufacturer’s suggested method, which was not the best of ideas.
You see, there was a problem. The first cans, capable of being used for canning food, were invented some 50 years before the can opener. That’s what led to the difficulty surrounding trying to get to the contents of the wrought iron can.
In the early 1800s, they realised that preserving food had to be done differently. They only had wrought iron to work with at that point, so it made sense to use that instead of the tin can we know today.
But can openers would have no chance of getting through the material. It was just too thick. That was why people became tired of trying to get into the can, resulting in the invention of what we now know as the can opener.
The First Tin Can Opener
So with the first tin cans, at least ones that could be opened with this device, it was only made possible by thinner materials being used. Warner’s invention was to use a curved blade capable of cutting into the cans but focusing on the lid rather than the side.
In a sense, the early invention, which was more for creating open cans for customers, was to saw through the lids. But that would leave quite a jagged edge.
However, this approach was never a big hit for domestic use. But all was not lost. It saw some use by the US army during the Civil War. Plus, it certainly laid the groundwork for additional changes to be made to the can opener, which would mean it became far more popular across a larger market.
1870’s Big Changes
By the time we got to the 1870s, the can opener was more in line with how we see it today. A man named William Lyman had a patent for a rotary cutter to be used rather than more of a pointed blade. However, this opener was still very crude in its design, but it did at least use a different blade than the earlier version.
1920’s Even More Changes
If you want to see the origins of our design of can opener, then you need to look at Charles Arthur Bunker in the 1920s. This is where can openers started to use the toothed wheel crank option that we see today. Of course, that wasn’t the final evolution of can openers.
Since then, we have had the electric version come out, but it does seem that the method patented by Bunker remains the most popular when it comes to opening cans. Apparently, we prefer this over anything else, even when the key opener appeared on some cans. It seems we didn’t like that the key tended to break when in use.
The Modern-Day Opener
The can opener has been around for a long time, and it has gone through several changes over the last 150 years. It has seen quite the evolution from creating open cans for customers in many grocery stores to allow the opening of the army’s food in the Civil War.
However, with this being a wonderful preservation method for food, the can opener is never going to leave us, and why should it when it does its job so well?