The History of the Can Opener

Discover about this essential tool

apriscatole a leva (secc. XIX/XX, 1855 post) by produzione seriale europea o americanaTomato Museum

Peter Durand business owner (1766-1822) is remembered for having patented in England, in 1810, a system to produce tinned metal boxes suitable for food storage. Busy to identifying a method to seal the content, however he didn’t worry about the systems to open the boxes. On a small box taht was part of William E. Parry’s kit (1790-1855), who between 1824 and 1825 he explored Canadian Eastern Arctic, the instructions were given: “Cut all around the top close to the outer edge with a hammer and chisel”.

Only in the mid-19th Century was devised a specific tool to facilitate the opening the tinplate boxes: the can opener, destined to take on a surprising multiplicity of forms and sizes to this days. In England Robert Yates, a cutlery and surgical instruments manufacturer from Middlesex, patented the first can opener in history on July 13 1855 (UK Patent 1.577). Robust and effective design, characterized by a straight handle with metal handle, a short curved blade and a level bar, the model is produced and used still today.

apriscatole con lama a baionetta (secc. XIX/XX, fine-inizio) by produzione americanaTomato Museum

The can opener, that is in fact a lever, while its varied multiplicity forms, applies mechanism essentially attributable to three fundamental principles: pressure cut with fixed blade (generally with a single handle), vertical rotating cut (on the lid), mostly with two handles, horizontal rotating cut (on the can outer edge, under the lid), mostly with two handles.

Overseas, where the can opener story is destined to change considerably, is Ezra J. Warner, resident in Waterbury, Connecticut, who on January 5 1858 patented the first can opener in the USA, with curved handle, long bayonet blade and interchangeable sliding shoe (US Patent 19.063). Used by the Northern Army during the American Civil War (1861-1865) however was dangerous for domestic use and its production was abandoned.

apriscatole (secc. XIX/XX, 1865/1930 ca.) by produzione ingleseTomato Museum

In 1865 was made in England the “bull head” can opener, with a cast iron structure with an artistic reproduction of the bovine head, handle formed by the tail and applied steel blade. Initially spread by “Bully” canned meat, it will be produced until 1930 and will inspire a “fish head” version, produced in the same years before 1867.

apriscatole a chiavetta (secc. XIX/XX, 1866 post) by produzione seriale europea o americanaTomato Museum

J. Osterhoudt in 1866 patented a new system for opening canned meats (US Patent 58.554), with a simple key, supplied stuck on the lid, that allows, without drilling or cutting, to wrap, starting from a tab, a metal thin strip around the top edge of the can. The system is still in use today, especially in canned fish, although surpassed by the “tear” opening of aluminum cans, introduced since 1967.

apriscatole a farfalla (sec. XX, primo quarto) by Star Can Opener CompanySan Francisco (U.S.A.)Tomato Museum

There were also those who tried other solutions, different from the lever-cut system used in the first models. William W. Lyman of Meriden, Connecticut, on July 12 1870 patented a circular rotation can opener (US Patent 105.346), put into production by the Baumgarten Company since 1890. It was necessary to pierce the center of the can lid with the tool tip, adjust the rotating blade with the butterfly screw on the desired sizes, practice, with a blow, the first cut of the lid and then turn the blade in a circular direction.

apriscatole a forbice (sec. XIX, 1899) by produzione europea o americanaTomato Museum

The application of the circular principle is observed in the John Kaylor “scissor” can opener on May 7 1899, in the “wheel” “Safety first”, also of 1899 and in Canadian model with single extendable handle of 1896, but with external horizontal cut.

apriscatole con lama a dente di pescecane (sec. XIX, 1874 ca.) by produzione americanaTomato Museum

On July 21 1874 A.V.M. Sprague patroned a metal can opener that solves the Warner model inconveniences of 1858, equipped with “shark tooth” blade and interchangeable sliding shoe, also sold in loose bags and produced by Sargent & Co.

apriscatole con chiodo per foro centrale (sec. XX, prima metà) by ditta Caudano & Co., TorinoTomato Museum

A tool with a nail for central hole, traceable to the American patent of N.F. Stone of April 14 1868 with wooden handle and the subsequent with iron handle of Edward D. Woods, Frank White and Byron Bacon in 1901, will also produced in Italy (Brev. It. N. 72691) between 1920 and 1930 by the Caudano And Co. Company of Turin and can be considered the first tool of our Country.

apriscatole per mancini (sec. XIX, 1890 ca.) by produzione americanaTomato Museum

Also designed for left-handers, “Geo Nash” can opener, dating from around 1890 features a double steel cutting blade applied to an ambidextrous molten metal structure.

apriscatole-cavatappi (sec. XIX, 1892 ca.) by Ditta Turner & Seymour (Torrington, Connecticut)Tomato Museum

Brings together can openers and corkscrew the “King tempered steel blade” cutting blade and metal foil body, made by Turner & Seymour since 1892 in an impressive number of variations for over 100 year and traceable at the patent deposited by C. G. Taylor on Christmas day 1906.

apriscatole con lama a pressione (sec. XX, inizio) by produzione franceseTomato Museum

French origin, this metal can opener, with pressure blade, single handle with a wooden handle, dating to the early 20th Century uses a fixed toothed ring to facilitate the advancement along the edge. The model, tiring to use, was abandoned.

apriscatole a pressione (sec. XX, 1919 ca.) by ditta Marvel, AmericaTomato Museum

The melting metal and pressure circular steel blade manual can opener, to be beat with a hammer, produced by Marvel in 1919, is completely different from the opening logic so far adopted. Although appreciable for the innovation, was of difficult to use and didn't have a great diffusion.

apriscatole a manovella con ventosa (sec. XX, 1932 ca.) by produzione americanaTomato Museum

In 1930s several examples of double handle and wheel mechanism can opener appeared on the market, but with cranks instead of the butterfly, also with differential systems, to facilitate the opening, like the aluminium model patented by George W. Bungay on June 14 1932, also equipped with a small rubber suction cup to prevent the cut-out lid from falling into the box.

apriscatole pieghevole e tascabile (serie di 2) (sec. XX, 1942 post) by produzione americanaTomato Museum

In 1942 the American Army developed the brilliant P-38 can opener, to allow the individual or survival rations, formed by a folding and hinged triangular form blade to a shaped and printed metal bar 38 mm long (hence the name) can also be used as a screwdriver and perfored to be inserted in the keychain. There is also a subsequent slightly larger model, called P-51. In reality, very similar folding can openers had been designed and made in Spain in 1922. A similar device, which incorporates a little spoon at one end and bottle opener at the other end is still in use in Australian and New Zealand Army.

apriscatole a manovella (sec. XX, 1930 circa) by ditta Luciani, ParmaTomato Museum

To lighten the work of hospital canteen, military and community cooks, were also created large can openers model, for bench or wall, suitable for the rapid and continuous opening of a large number of cans. At this group belongs also the large crank industrial can openers, manufactured by Luciani - Parma, datable on 1930s and once used inside the production plants to open the large 3 and 5 kg cans to be repacked.

By Albert FennLIFE Photo Collection

The first electric can opener, based on the cutting wheels principle, able to open more than 20 cans for a minute, was patented by Preston C. West in the USA on December 1 1931 but with scarce diffusion (US Patent 1.834.563). New electric models were reintroduced in 1956 by two Californian Companies and saw the light also a wall model (US Patent 2.789.345), helpful for great kitchens, but with modest diffusion yet.

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