When you think about beer, it’s kind of hard not to picture pulling back the tab and hearing the familiar crack of a sealed beer can opening for the first time. But in the long, colorful history of beer, the beer can is a relative newcomer. The first beer can didn’t arrive until the 1930′s, after the prohibition.
The American Can Company had been working on the idea of offering beer in a can since 1909, but had yet to develop a successful model. The idea of canned beer was great, as it offered a much more cost effective method of delivering the product to customers. Cans were naturally lighter than bottles, so it wouldn’t cost nearly as much to ship, and the cost to produce cans was extremely cheap compared to bottles.
The biggest obstacles that the American Can Company faced was producing a can that could withstand the pressure of a carbonated beverage (up to 80 pounds per inch), and developing a practical liner that would keep the beverage from contacting the metal and causing a chemical reaction that would render the beer undrinkable.
The American Can Company worked diligently at developing a solution until Prohibition made the selling of beer illegal, dashing any hopes of ever being able to market the drink in any form of packaging.
In 1931, sensing the eventual end to Prohibition, American Can once again began working on the idea of canning beer. Two years later, they had finally developed a can that had both the ability to withstand the pressure of the carbonated drink without bursting at the seams, and a coating to keep the beer from reacting with the metal surface inside of the can. All that was left to do was sell breweries on the idea, which proved to be a monumental task in itself. Many were skeptical of the idea at first, and didn’t want to risk their reputations on such a radical new concept. And rightly so, since many regional breweries had suffered tremendous losses during prohibition.
The Gottfried Krueger Brewing Company in Newark, New Jersey, was one of those breweries. But the offer of building a canning line and paying for the initial test batches, along with the idea of saving such a large amount of money by using cans instead of bottles, proved to be enough to convince Krueger to give it a chance. So in June, 1934, one thousand homes in Richmond, Virginia were delivered four cans of beer along with a questionnaire asking how they felt about the new concept. The results were staggering, and by 1935, Krueger’s new beer in a can was being sold throughout the city.
As the idea of the cheaper canned beer was catching on, it proposed a problem with many smaller breweries, as it required the a completely new line of packaging. This was eventually solved by using bottle shaped cans called cone tops. The cone tops had all the benefits of flat top cans, but could be used on existing packaging lines, and could be sealed with crown caps just like bottles. As the years passed and breweries went out of business or upgraded their packaging lines the cone top cans began to disappear, and by 1960 they were all but forgotten.
The first pull tab beer cans hit the market in 1963. The most popular brand being Iron City Beer produced by the Pittsburgh Brewing Company. Although it didn’t take long for problems to occur, the most pressing being the little removable strips of metal that were showing up everywhere from litterbugs tossing them on the ground, generating accounts of pets or wildlife choking and swimmers getting their feet cut on the beach. In 1975, Falls City Brewing Company introduced the first fixed tab that would remain on the can after opening. This new design solved the pull tab problem and little has changed in the design of canned beer since.
The beer can, while at first enduring many trials and tribulations, has become a staple in the Beer Industry. It’s success has since carried over to almost all other beverages being sold today.