The idea of storing food in airtight containers came from a French chef named Nicolas Appert, when in 1795 the French military offered a cash prize of 12,000 Francs to anyone who could help them preserve food to be transported to their soldiers on the front line. Appert, however, didn’t use metal cans, he used air tight glass bottles which he then boiled which killed any bacteria inside the container.
Appert’s method was simple and worked well, the technique spread across France and into Britain where an inventor named Peter Durand patented his own method, this time not using glass bottles but using metal cans which was granted by King George III of England in 1810. He followed the same techniques except he enclosed the food in tin cans, he arranged his cans to sail with the royal navy for 4-6 months and when opened and examined they were completely preserved.
The patent was sold in 1812 to two Englishmen named Bryan Donkin and John Hall, where they proceeded to set up the world’s first food canning factory, where they produced canned goods for the British army. However, the men receiving the canned goods had a spot of trouble getting at the food within, as a dedicated device to get at the food had not yet been invented, and the tins themselves were incredibly thick, heavy and robust. The soldiers had to break into the cans using whatever tools they happened to have available, commonly a hammer and chisel! It wasn’t until 1855 that a device for opening cans was finally invented, Robert Yeates devised the first primitive tin opener with a claw shaped design to cut around the top of the cans. As canned food was becoming more and more widely used, more advanced can openers were soon to follow.
When the tin can was first invented they could produce them at a rate of 6 per hour, nowadays with our new technology we produce modern aluminium cans (used for storing beverages) at a rate of around 6 million an hour and with new developments in recycling the metal used in a metal can can be recycled and back on the shop shelf within 2 months of use, using 95% less energy than creating a new can from raw materials. If you don’t recycle the can, it can take around 200 years to decompose in landfill.