Cans were opened with a hammer and chisel before the advent of can openers. The tin canister, or can, was invented in 1810 by a Londoner, Peter Durand. The year before, French confectioner, Nicolas Appert, had introduced the method of canning food (as it became known) by sealing the food tightly inside a glass bottle or jar and then heating it. He could not explain why the food stayed fresh but his bright idea won him the 12,000-francs prize that Napoleon offered in 1795 for preserving food. Durand supplied the Royal Navy with canned heat-preserved food while Appert would help Napoleon’s army march on its stomach.
Tin canning was not widely adopted until 1846, when a method was invented to increase can production from 6 in an hour to 60. Still, there were no can openers yet and the products labels would read: “cut around on the top near to outer edge with a chisel and hammer.”
The can opener was invented in 1858 by American Ezra Warnet. There also is a claim that Englishman Robert Yeates invented the can opener in 1855. But the can opener did not become popular until, ten years later, it was given away for free with canned beef. (Canned pet food was introduced by James Spratt in 1865.)
The well-known wheel-style opener was invented in 1925. Beer in a can was launched in 1935. The easy-open can lid was invented by Ermal Cleon Fraze in 1959.
Since 1972, some 64 million tons of aluminum cans (about 3 trillion cans) have been produced. Placed end-to-end, they could stretch to the moon about a thousand times. Still, cans represent less than 1% of solid waste material – about one quarter of all cans are recycled. Worldwide, some 9 million cans are recycled every hour. Which is good news, considering that it takes a can about 200 years to degrade if you bury it. It takes paper about a month to bio-degrade, a woolen sock about a year, and plastic possibly hundreds of years.
Recycling cans saves 95% of the energy required to make aluminum from ore, or the equivalent of 18 million barrels of oil, or 10.8 billion kilowatt hours. Used aluminum cans that are recycled return to store shelves within 60 days.