A visual history of the beer can
Image: Wikimedia Commons
Today is Beer Can Appreciation Day! While it might seem silly to add this to the never-ending list of “national days,” we’ll take it this time, because beer is great and the evolution of the traditional beer can is even better. The day marks the first sale of a canned beer.
Breweries started toying with the idea of canning beer in the early 1900s, but struggled to figure out how to develop a can that was able to withstand pasteurization and still arrive fresh and tasty for consumers. Once they figured it out, cans underwent even more overhauls.
The first beer can was finally developed in 1933 by American Can, for Gottfried Krueger’s Brewing Company. By the time it hit shelves in 1935, the benefits were already obvious. The cans were lighter than glass bottles and less likely to break. They weren’t totally light, though. The flat-top cans that had to be opened with a churchkey weighed about four ounces each. They were originally made out of tin, then steel, then aluminum in 1958.
It didn’t take long for the development of the small New Jersey brewers to gain national attention. Pabst, out of Milwaukee, jumped on board and started producing their blue ribbon-winning beer in cans in 1935 as well.
The idea of packaging beer in cans was fine and dandy, but not possible for all breweries — especially smaller ones that didn’t have the money to revamp their bottle lines for the new technology. This is where the cone top came in. This design allowed brewers to use their bottle and packaging lines to fill cans, and seal them with bottle caps. According to the Brewery Collectibles Club of America, there were four cone styles: low profile, high profile, J-spout and crowntainer. Though this style was mainly used by smaller breweries, hence why we don’t see many in vintage and antique shops, Schlitz used this design for a while.
Image: Art's Beer Cans
After a lull in can production during World War II, canned beer came sweeping back into the mainstream. With more beer brands sticking to canning as opposed to bottling, the need for versatile packaging was less important and cone top cans started fading out. The next iteration of canning started in Pittsburgh, home of aluminum manufacturer Alcoa. Iron City Beer was the first to use the the easy-open can with a pull tab. Not one to sleep on beer trends, Schlitz adopted this style can as well, tweaking it a little with the first finger loop.
For the first time, the sales of canned beer surpassed those of bottled beers.
Since humans are apparently unable to be trusted with small pieces of metal, lest they toss them on the ground, the first fixed tab beer can as we know it now was developed. With the tab and piece of metal staying attached to the can, people and animals rejoiced as they stopped accidentally swallowing sharp pieces of aluminum.
The first fixed tab beer can was produced by Falls City Brewing Company and is used by just about every brewery and soda company to this day. While some hip breweries might use old can designs as part of their gimmick, the 43-year old design still seems to be going strong!
Image: Public Domain Pictures