Each year on August 24, we celebrate Can Opener Day. Peter Durand invented canned food in 1813. The patent for a can opener was obtained in 1855 or 1858, depending on whom you consider the inventor. How did people open canned food before the can opener? The instructions on an 1824 can of roast veal read, “Cut round on the top near to the outer edge with a chisel and hammer.”
The reason why there is a debate as to when the can opener was invented is that the idea came separately to a Brit and an American. First in Britain was Roberts Yates, who made knives and surgical instruments. His patent for “lock and lever knives,” was given on July 13, 1855. He did not specifically design his tool for canned food, but for opening cases, and anything else that might need that type of opening tool.
In 1858, Ezra J. Warner of Waterbury, Connecticut, became the first American to patent a can opener. He proved to be the right man at the right time, as the US military adopted his invention for use during the Civil War. Both of these openers stabbed the can, then worked like a lever to open it. To bring the invention closer to what we might think of as a modern can opener, William W. Lyman added a wheel for continuous operation in 1870.
The first electric can opener was patented in 1931 and modeled after the cutting-wheel design. Those openers were produced in the 1930s and advertised as capable of removing lids from more than 20 cans per minute without risk of injury. However, they were not popular. They were reintroduced in 1955 and had more success.
For a long time it was considered lazy for a woman to cook with food from a can, but fighting that image was Poppy Cannon, who said about herself, “Armed with a can opener, I become the artist cook, the massive creative chef.” So whether your can opener is a fancy electric one, or one of the manual kinds, get it out tonight to help make dinner.
Quotes about can openers and canned food
This cookbook solves the problem of those who demand gourmet cooking in short-order time. The menus and recipes show how the hurried and even inexperienced cook, using the prepared mix, the jar, the frozen-food package, or the canned product as a base, can produce delectable, impressive dishes.–Poppy Cannon
Our cooking ideas and ideals have their roots in many lands and cultures, but our new way of achieving gourmet food can only happen here – in the land of the mix, the jar, the frozen-food package, and the ubiquitous can opener.–Poppy Cannon
At one time a badge of shame, hallmark of the lazy lady and the careless wife, today the can opener is becoming a magic wand…–Poppy Cannon
It is exciting to discover electrons and figure out the equations that govern their movement; it is boring to use those principles to design electric can openers. From here on out, it’s all can openers.–Neal Stephenson
She’s the only museum curator I know who can take a beer-can opener and a frying pan and make a marvelous exhibition out of it.–Thomas Sokolowski
I live out of cans a lot. But I try to indulge only in healthy canned food.–Dwight Yoakam
Canned food is a perversion, Ignatius said. I suspect that it is ultimately very damaging to the soul.–John Kennedy Toole
I read everything, including the labels on canned food.–Robert Anton Wilson
Is there anything sadder than the foods of the 1950s? Canned, frozen, packaged concoctions, served up by the plateful, three meals per day, in an era in which the supermarket was king, the farmer’s market was, well, for farmers, and the word ‘locavore’ sounded vaguely like a mythical beast.–Jeffrey Kluger
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