Tavern Trove: Beer Can History

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Beer Can History



The history of the beer can is fascinating and stretches back nearly 100 years. It is a story tangled in politics, religion and big business, and its drama is worthy of a major network mini series starring Brian Dennehy.

Can companies had their eyes on carving some of the beer market away from the bottlers since well before prohibition. Their mouths had been watering at the potentially huge market. But the canning industry in the 1900s struggled to produce a suitable tin container for beer. At the same time those in the brewing industry were skeptical of the public being able to accept beer in cans. Eventually in the depths of the Great Depression these two industries would come together to create something extraordinary. During the process of developing canned beer thousands of patents would be filed, and the improvements in both industries would be revolutionary. Ultimately the phenomenon of canned beer would transform the psychology of the American consumer.

As the can companies found out, no ordinary tin can would work for canning beer. During the Pasteurization of beer, temperatures can exceed 175 degrees and pressures can reach 100 pounds per square inch. Can company engineers in the early 1930s did not have the benefit of computers so there was a certain amount of guesswork involved in figuring out how strong to make the seams and walls of the can to withstand such torture. They didn’t want their cans exploding during pasteurization or leaking on store shelves. Therefore, the first cans were over-designed and hefty. Indeed, these early cans were so stout that a few enterprising (or maybe just frugal) carpenters used them as bricks in houses and buildings.

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