Trivia Tuesday ~ The Tin Can

07 Jun
Trivia Tuesday ~ The Tin Can

Trivia Tuesday, question of the week…  Everybody ready?
What took hours to make, was made of iron, dipped in tinplate, then soldered closed?

Did you guess the TIN CAN?  Ok, did you really know o.O  … Or did I give it away with the picture.

Well in my quest for the history on the coolest inventions ever made that have changed our lives forever, I came across this great information.  It intrigued me so much, that I’ll be doing a piece on… (Can you guess? :P)…. THE CAN OPENER!  Oh, I’m so excited, I can’t wait any longer.  So let’s get started!

Where to start.  Hmm let’s hop in the time machine and go wayyyyy back shall we.  We’re going clear back to 1810, so everyone get your arms in and your seatbelts on, this could be a bumpy trip. 😛

In 1810, an Englishman, Peter Durand, was granted a patent by King George III for the notion of preserving food in vessels of glass, pottery, tin or other metal or fit materials.  Now these cans were first made of iron and dipped in tin.  The tin kept the iron from corroding and rusting.  The tinplate could then be soldered to make the container air-tight.  This soldered lid did, however, cause a bit of a problem.  Opening it wasn’t easy.

The directions for opening the can read, “Cut round the top near outer edge with a chisel and hammer.”  O.O  Can you imagine that?  The visual there is just amazing isn’t it?!  Let me add to that gut-buster visual you have going.  The can weighed more than the contents. (It’s made of iron remember)  So it was bulky too AND not easy to open.  But this is progress.  You can have your preserved food AND get a work out at the same time.   😛 haha

Here are some pictures of the first tin cans (these required a hammer and chisel)

Pictures courtesy of Öner Metal Packaging Machinery Museum

In 1812, two Englishmen, John Hall and Bryan Dorkin, acquired the patent from Durand.  After a year of experimenting they successfully created the first commercial canning factory in Bermondsey, England, using tinplate cans.  The French Armies had to travel farther and longer, therefore, the British Armies felt they should be able to do the same.    The full stories on why they had to travel so far are here. >>   The War of 1812 and Liberations in 1813-1814 . By 1813, the tinplate can was being supplied to the British Army and Navy.  By 1818 the Royal Navy was consuming up to 24,000 large cans (40,000 lbs) on their ships.  The new “canned” commodities were a welcome change among the sailors that often faced scurvy as a result of the salted meat provisions that offered little or no nutritional value.

Alright, I’ve covered most of the “why” it was created, part of this historical account.  I didn’t mention that Napoleon in 1795 offered a reward if someone created a way to keep food in better condition.  I’ll cover that later in another post.  But it is FASCINATING!  I promise. 😛  Ok, ok…. on to the “how” part.

Iron was pounded into sheets, then dipped in molten tin.  This created what is called tinplate.  The tinplate was then soaked in a brine bath.  The working conditions were hot and the air was putrid.  Steel workers would then cut the sheets into rectangular shapes and round the ends.  The rectangular shapes were then placed around a mold, the shape of a cylinder, then the seam and ends were soldered. One end was made with a hole in the middle, so that food could be “stuffed” through the hole.  Once the tin can was full, a metal lid was place in the hole and soldered shut.  This was a better process, but still required a chisel and hammer.  Further, the soldering process left a residue that often became a part of the contents of the can.  Here’s a picture of that.

Picture courtesy of History of Steel – City of Euless

This was a tedious and time-consuming process.  The max output was six per day!  With a whole British Navy to feed – they better work a lot!  😛  Ok, no joke, this was a very laborious job and it needed even more improvement.

Here is a picture of the tin can machine made available for home use. (Umm home use?.. O.O .. Oh, I don’t think so!)  I’m not sure when this machinery came out, but I’ll take a stab at it and say…… It’s really old!  (JK :P) I found it in a magazine dating Oct. 1923, however I’m sure it’s older than the book issue date.

Picture courtesy of Modern Mechanix

In 1847, Allen Taylor invented the manual press. (Ok, there’s my best guess at how old that machine above is.)  This was used in lid-end production.  During this time, experiments in using resins for soldering instead of acids were being attempted.  However, were unsuccessful.

In 1856, Henry Evans invented a machine (a press) that would manufacture tin cans at 60 an hour by producing the can ends in a single process.  This was significant progress in comparison to the six a day!  (There is more than one account of the amount made – so you pick the one you want to believe – I’m ok with that.)

Pictures courtesy of Öner Metal Packaging Machinery Museum

In 1858, Ezra Warner of Waterbury, Connecticut patented the first “tin opener”.  It resembles something like a bent bayonet.  But I’ll cover all that in my other Trivia Tuesdays.

These cans were supplied to the Union and Confederate soldiers during the Civil War.  If a hammer and chisel weren’t available (which most often were not) they used their bayonets, knives, a rock, or simply shot at them with their rifles or pistols.

The invention of the “sanitary can” eliminated the need for soldering.  The seams and ends of the can were now folded over twice, forming a strong seal.  With the removal of the soldering process, the solder soot was no longer contaminating the content of the can.  This, of course, is why it’s called the “sanitary can”.  This ended the hole and lid can.

With the invention of the sanitary can, the process became faster.  Along with this invention, came machinery that handled the production on a larger scale.  Here’s a picture of that.

Picture courtesy of Modern Mechanix

Now doesn’t it just make you wonder, what they came up with to open an iron tinplate can?  Yes, I found myself wondering that myself.  You are going to be so surprised what they came up with!

It’s no doubt that this tin can has changed the way we live.  It’s nothing for us to go to the store and purchase a can of this or that, and think nothing of how hard it was back then.  We definitely don’t have to “fight” for our food in a can now. But…

Now you know! 😀

Many thanks to The history of steel, Modern Mechanix and the Oner Packaging Machinery Museum they have a wealth of information.  I highly recommend the visit to these sites.  There is more pictures there if you are interested, and the museum also offers a virtual tour.


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2 responses to “Trivia Tuesday ~ The Tin Can

  1. Nieves Miranda

    July 3, 2012 at 3:46 pm

    Thank you for this info. It was very much useful to our report concerning canning. (:

  2. sandy

    September 27, 2014 at 8:31 pm

    With a metal detector on the Oregon trail we found an old can with a small circular weld, rusty and looked as if a wagon wheel had run over it. Any Idea on the age of the can?


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