A Brief History of Canned Food

Categories: Books, Fun Facts

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The can reached its apotheosis in 1965. It's all downhill from here.
With two business partners, Donkin set up a factory and began cranking out preserved foods according to Appert's method, but with one crucial difference: Glass bottles, they decided, were too fragile to withstand the rigors of Army life. Instead they used tin-coated iron canisters: Our good friend, the tin can.

And at this point Appert disappears from our story. According to some sources, he set up a canning factory of his own, which lasted more than a century, until the dawn of World War I. According to others, including Consider the Fork, Bee Wilson's wonderful history of the kitchen and its implements, he was buried in a pauper's grave. You decide.

Here's another wonderful mystery about the tin can: It would be nearly half a century before anyone bothered to invent a can opener. Until the invention of the first can opener in 1855, soldiers used bayonets. Civilians were advised to substitute a chisel and hammer.

The earliest can openers could have conceivably been used as weapons, too. They combined sharp sickles for cutting the lid with a lever for lifting it off. Astonishingly, it would take another hundred years for the invention of the side-opening can opener that grips the side of the can while serrated wheels cut it open.

Think about that. We knew how to preserve food, hell we sent people to the moon -- with freeze-dried ice cream, and yet we could not think of a way to get to it without leaving food trapped inside, without sharp edges that qualified as weapons in themselves, without electricity.

Just think about that next time you open a can of soup.

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