An Illustrated History of the American Beer Can
An Illustrated History of the American Beer Can
An Illustrated History of the American Beer Can
.  .  .  .
AMERICAN CAN COMPANY
Pre-1900
 
'Canned beer'
was a thing,
but not what
you might
think it was.


As illustrated
in this 1888
article, "canning
beer" was shorthand
for filling a metal or wooden pail/keg/ similar container with beer or ale.
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"Canned beer"?
 Click for larger view
19 March 1901
The American Can Company is born,
incorporated under New Jersey laws. 

The articles of incorporation are filed in Trenton, and combine 103 smaller factories into a "Tin Can Trust," with $88M of investment capital.

 Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 1901
September 1905

Albert Einstein
publishes, among
other things, his
Theory of Relativity.


At a later date he'll
publish his General
Theory of Relativity
,
at which time this
first theory will be
retitled the Special
Theory of Relativity.
Some day, the
smartest people
in the world will
collect beer cans.

Click to
read article

 Early photo of American Can Company vehicle
 Juerst's Ebulliometer
 Early American Can Co vehicle
The ebulliometer is used to measure alcohol content in water-based beverages. Dr. Richard H. P. Juerst (remember that name!) designed one used by brewers, and ultimately endorsed by the U.S. Government.
1909
American (a.k.a. Acco or CANCO) researches selling beer in tin cans, finds that contemporary canning
methods are far too
weak to withstand
the sorts of internal
pressures created
during the process
of
pasteurization.

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January 29, 1919
America loses its mind. 
Prohibition becomes law.

 Opens in a new window.
Late 1913

The U.S. government pursues anti-trust lawsuits against several large companies, including Acco.  Circuit judge in MD declares American to be in violation of the Sherman Act, but does not say the
company has to
be disbanded. Fed
govt appeals, and
the case will
bounce through
the judicial system
for several years.
28 October 1919
1916
Volstead Act, named after teetotaler Andrew Volstead, fortifies Prohibition by specifying any beverage containing more than 0.5% alcohol is "intoxicating."
American Can Company opened this factory in 1916, in San Francisco
Andrew Volstead

The Gottfried Krueger Brewery of Newark, NJ is about to become a major force in the birth of the American beer can, in tandem with the American Can Company.
18 August 1920

The 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution gives women the right to vote.
Women's Suffrage
16 April 1925
In June 1921, Uncle Sam finally relinquishes, and requests their suit be canceled.
 Stollberg Patent, April 1925
CANCO inventor Charles Stollberg submits a can design deemed worthy of holding beer,
and files for a
patent on his
design.
Click for larger image
Gottfried Krueger Brewery, ca 1922
1923 - Yankee Stadium completed
Click for larger image
 Opens in a new window.
Patent numbers (starting with 1,625,229) listed on American beer cans correspond to changes in the beer can designs, e.g. improvements in soldering techniques.
19 February 1926

In another step toward finding a way to make tin cans capable of withstanding pasteurization of beer, Acco submits a patent application for his seaming method for the manufacture of "tubular bodies."
The "House That Ruth Built"
20-21 May 1927
Charles Lindbergh flies NY to Paris.
Detailed map of Lindbergh's historic flight, printed in the 22 May 1927 Oakland Tribune
April 19, 1927

Charles Stolling's patent is granted.  The world has its first bona fide beer can blueprint.

Map of flight from the Oakland Tribute, 22 May.  Click for larger view.
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Vinylite, the material used to line the insides of beer cans, was made from the same polymer used to make vinyl records.
1929
Armed with its new beer can, American Can Company tests its protoype at the request of Anheuser-Busch and Pabst.

October 29, 1929     Black Tuesday
The Great Depression is upon us.
Banning alcohol turns out to have a much bigger effect on worldly matters than even the darkest of pessimists could've foreseen.
Two hurdles facing
the canner and
interested brewers
are keeping beer
from coming in
contact with the
metal itself, and
making the design
sturdy enough to withstand the pressures of pasteurization.

Most trademark registration numbers listed on Keglined cans (92935, 197382, 268305, etc.) were for the term (and logo for) CANCO.  The original trademark application for Keglined was #0317439. 

For a scanned copy of hat document,
click here.

Tests show it won't be as easy as they might have thought.
3 March 1931

America officially adopts The Star Spangled Banner as its National Anthem.
 Juerst Can - image from ebaY
1931
The Gottlieb Krueger Brewery of Newark, NJ contacts American and, with the help of Dr. R. H. P. Juerst (there's that name again), develops the world's first tenable beer can.
Dr. Juerst, brewmaster for Havard Brewing, is a scientist and prodigious inventor.  By 1932 he and Krueger have developed the first tin can to successfully withstand pasteurization while preserving the beer within.

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Summer 1933
Acco & Krueger package 2,000 cans of Krueger's Special Beer and send them to 500 families of "loyal Krueger's drinkers."

The beer can's approval rating is 91%.
March 23, 1933
"INTERNAL REVENUE TAX PAID"
BEER LAW T.D. 4423

Per U.S. law, from the first days of Repeal through early 1950, containers of fermented beverages were required to reflect federal taxes had been paid on the product. On beer cans (and bottles), this was typically summarized as Internal Revenue Taxes Paid or Tax Paid At The Rate Prescribed By The Internal Revenue LawBeer cans sold during this period are referred to by collectors as "IRTP," and collectors know March 1, 1950 as the date this requirement went away.

However, some of the very first cans were mistakenly designed and manufactured without the IRTP statement.  This was an error by brewers; these cans are considerably rare.  But one question remains unanswered: w
hy was the IRTP statement omitted from some of the first cans? 

The tax statement requirement was put into law beer cans were not yet commercially available.  So the law didn't specifically address beer cans.  However, it did refer to "metal barrels," stating these containers only needed U-Permit information.  This may have been the rationale used by the earliest canners in 1935: they may have believed they could exclude the IRTP statement from cans*.  The omission might also have been caused by a strict interpretation of Law 4423--the 1934 amendment to the 1933 law--which didn't mention cans at all.  It may have just been innocent omission (doubtful), or it could have been another reason altogether.  In any case, canners were quick to remedy this omission.

Click here
for a PDF of an April 1934 brewer's journal article detailing the amendment dictating labeling conventions for beer containers.  For a more copy & paste-friendly product, you can also download a transcript of T.D. 4423 here.

* T.D. 4423 stated
"metal barrels and kegs must... (show)" data that included U-Permit information, but not the IRTP statement.
Volstead is amended.  President Roosevelt signs the Cullen-Harrison Bill, making 3.2 beer legal.
CONTINENTAL CAN COMPANY
Question:
Did Krueger test more than one set of colors for their first can design? 
Three Baldy BEERs, three different color schemes--including a light-colored K-Man
12 October 1933
Ownership of Alcatraz Island is transferred from the U.S. Army to the Bureau of Prisons.
 Click for a larger view.
Feb & June 1933
^ Take a close look at the photo above.
Despite being black & white, it shows
three different BEER designs; each
unique in shade, and
possibly, in color as
well. 

What do you think?
H. Schrader and E.G. Mason file patent applications for can
openers, on behalf
of the Continental
Can Company.
Schrader and Mason patents from 1933 for Continental Can Co's can opener
17 November 1933

The Marx Brothers'
Duck Soup
is
released. Critical
response is tepid,
and ticket sales are
less than stellar,
but in the decades
since its initial
release the movie has become widely regarded as a comedic masterpiece, and the Marx Brothers' best.
November 7, 1933

American's John H. Murch applies to patent his "Method of Lining the Insides of Cans."
Murch Method of Ljning Cans
December 1933
American Can Company inventors Dewitt Sampson and John Hothersall develop the church key.  CANCO commissions Vaughan Novelty Mfg. Co. to manufacture the openers.
S.C. Robison - Continental Flat Top
Summer 1933

Continental Can
Company's
Samuel C.
Robison files for
a patent on his
flat top beer can
design.
5 December 1933
Click for larger image
American spends much of the year perfecting a durable, wax-like substance--a brewer's pitch-used to coat the insides of cans (beer quickly "skunkifies" when it contacts metal).

American spends much of the year perfecting their durable, wax-like substance - a brewer's pitch -  used to coat the insides of their cans (beer quickly "skunkifies" when it contacts metal).
His patent will be granted in the winter of 1936. 
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Prohibition is officially repealed.
March 3
John Dillinger escapes
from an Indiana prison.
8 February 1934

The first public appearance of the term & logo "Keglined."  American Can Company files for trademark protection four days later.

Could this have been in one of their tests?  The Krueger's Special Can?  An ad in a Brewer's Periodical? 
I'd love to know!
'Method of Making a Metal Container for Beer'
11 May 1934

Alfred L. Kronquest
of the Continental
Can Company
applies for a patent
for his "Method for Making a Metal Container."
March 1934 update to U.S. Tax Code, regarded fermented liquors:
Could
"wooden
and metal
kegs"

have led
to brewers
omitting the
required IRTP statement from the earliest cans?


What do you think?

 Page from April 1934 American Brewer publication
March 34 article appears in brewers' journals titled
Canned Beer
May Take Place
of "Growler."

Someone saw the
connection between
the terms 'growler'
and 'canned beer,'
and pushed this
"Growler"
story.
 First public appearance of this trademark was 8 February 1934
However, American is unable to satisfactorily create a wax that remains intact when subjected to pasteurization (about 140 degrees Fahrenheit).
This is one of numerous efforts showing the company was working hard on finding the right material for lining the insides of the can.

Could be CCS' first foray into cans for beverages
CCC's engineers try resins, flours, gums, and even sprayed asphalt to coat the insides of their cans.
Try pressing me!
22 July 1934

FBI agents fatally
shoot John Dillinger as he exits a Chicago theater.

Finally, CANCO turns to Union Carbide, whose proprietary Vinylite can be applied to the insides of tin cans.
 Half gallon metallic bottle of Special Pabst Draft Beer. Testing began in 1934, and may have run well into 1935.
Press to Test
The IRTP Statement
September 1934

CCC begins trials of its
aluminum bottle.  That's
right - the first metallic
container for beer made
by Continental is a bottle!

           Or... was this a can


From the first days of Repeal, beer container labels required a message confirming the contents had been taxed, per the U.S. Tax Code.

Both lids on the earliest flat tops cans lacked "smile beads," which provide structural reinforcement.  These were added to the tops of cans quickly, and in a few years both lids would have the smile beads.
September 1934
Working with the ever-pliable Vinylite, CANCO develops a dual coat process ("C" enamel + Vinylite), to guarantee beer won't contact the
insides of their beer cans,
and adopts to their lining
process their "Keglined"
term.

Working with the ever-pliable Vinylite, CANCO develops a dual coat process ("C" enamel + Vinylite), to guarantee beer won't contact the insides of their beer cans, and adopts to their lining process their "Keglined" term.
However,
some brewers mistakenly thought the U-permit
number was all they needed to include on their beer cans. So, a handful of the earliest commercially-available cans were mistakenly printed without the required tax statement. These cans are extremely rare.

The IRTP law would be annulled on 1 March 1950.


Just like a conetop, it was made of metal, but shaped like a bottle. In fact, just like a Crowntainer--still a couple years from its first appearance--this beaut was made of drawn (spun) metal! 

In so, then it'd not have been as remarkable a development as what most of us consider to be the first cans, like the American Can flat top or the CCC cone top.  After all, this was nothing more than a plain (unlabeled/unetched) metallic bottle with a paper label attached (the same label used for bottles, but with test-run numbers, like the "6016" seen here).

Still, the question remains: was this a can?

Let me know what you think
.



 Dr. Richard H. P. Juerst
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January 24, 1935
CANNED BEER FOR SALE!!

January 2, 1935

R.R. Bowser and J. E. Miltenberger of the Heekin Can Company apply for a patent for their "Liquid Dispensing Container" . . .

22 days prior to the first sale of beer in cans.
1935 story on Dr. Juerst, a key figure in the early development of the American beer can
Acco and Krueger make their move; Krueger's Finest Beer and Krueger's Cream Ale are the first beers sold in cans.  Krueger chooses Richmond, Virginia as its first market market.

By March
Krueger's sales
are up by 550%.  Several
brewers begin to seriously
consider canning their beers.

Acco and Krueger make their move; Krueger's Finest Beer and Krueger's Cream Ale are the first beers sold in cans.  Krueger chooses Richmond, Virginia as its first market market.

By March
Krueger's sales are up by 550%. Several brewers begin to seriously consider canning their beers.
Spring 1935

Business is booming for CCC.
NATIONAL CAN COMPANY
 26 January 1935 Newcastle Pennsylvania News
Click for larger image
18 July 1935 Canonsburg PA article about can companies' developments
March 1934 American Brewer article on lined Krueger cans
2 April 1935

Sampson and Hothersall
are awarded Patent # 1,996,550 for their "Container Opener," which by now exists in dozens of shapes and sizes as the "Quick & Easy Opener."
April 1935
 
Metal Package Corp
changes its name to National Can Co.
25 May 1935

Babe Ruth hits his 714th, and last, home run as a professional baseball player.
Metal Package Corporation becomes National Can Company in April of 1935
June 1935

Continental announces it's going to produce tin cans designed for beer.

2 April 1935

Sampson & Hothersall are awarded patents #1996550 and 1996551 for their "container opener," which now exists in various shapes and sizes as the "Quick & Easy Opener."

Patents 1996550 and 1996551
10 July 1935 ad from the Pittsburgh Press
                       July 1935                        
July 1935

America's largest brewer, Pabst signs with American Can Company.  This is a major blow to those who believe beer in cans is a passing fad.

However, at first Pabst decided not to can its best-selling "Blue Ribbon" beer.  After all, they reasoned, if the newfangled beer can were to fail, why associate their finest product with it?

Instead, the Rockford, Illinois brewery conservatively decided, their excursion into canning began with their "Export" variety.
Cincinnati Enquirer, 4 August 1935
August 1935

Cincinnati paper carries a story about the new Heekin Can-O-Draft

Note that the story mistakenly reports a barrel of beer as containing 32 gallons (the correct number is 31).

Only a handful of these beauts are known to exist today, and only Burger was canned in it.
July 24, 1935

CCC's Kronquest finally finds a reliable protective lining - "Cerese EE Wax" - and files to patent the process Continental will use to protect beer from contacting the insides of its cans.
July 1935

America's largest brewer, Pabst,
signs with American Can Company.  This is a major blow to those who believe beer in cans is a passing fad.

However, at first Pabst decided not to can its best-selling "Blue Ribbon" beer.  After all, they reasoned, if the newfangled beer can were to fail, why associate their finest product with it?

Instead, the Rockford, Illinois brewery conservatively decided, their excursion into canning began with their "Export" variety.

12 October 1935 Schlitz ad about Continental's new beer can
Image accompanying 'C-Enamel' Patent application
Combined with
C-enamel, the
wax is what
CCC has been
looking for.

Ironically, the
figures Kronquest
draws up to
accompany his
patent sub-
mission are of
a Flat Top can (with an obvious smile bead on its upper lid, for reinforcement). 

Continental's first cans, we all know, were cone tops.

Combined with
C-enamel, the
wax is what
CCC has been
looking for.

Ironically, the
figures Kronquest
draws up to
accompany his
patent sub-
mission are of
a Flat Top can (with an obvious smile bead on its upper lid, for reinforcement). 

Continental's first cans, we all know, were cone tops.
July 1935:
National clones the flat top.

National clones the flat top.
Within six months of CANCO's market breakthrough, National comes along with its own flat
top. NCC also
buys the rights
to use Vinylite,
calling their
can-lining process "double-lining."
Click for larger image.
Click for larger image
Click for larger image
smile beads on the top lid.
 12 November 1935 Keglined Ad
National provides a more affordable product, and picks up business from brewers whose timing demands can not be met by a suddenly- swamped American Can Company.

National's customer base came largely from brewers whose timing demands could not be met by a suddenly- swamped American Can Company.
Within weeks, Continental will enter the market...
Within months, however, healthy sales of the canned beverage convinced Pabst it could sell its Blue Ribbon beer in cans.

Initially the brewer only changed the "Export" label by adding a blue ribbon.
September '35

With the help of a giant, Continental solves the
small guy's
problem.

Continental lands two
breweries (Schlitz,
and soon thereafter,
Heileman
) for its
maiden voyage into
the frontier of beer
cannery. In doing so,
they also solve a
problem smaller
brewers have
with the flat top:
Northampton Brewery Corp of Pennsylvania is the first brewery to can their beer with National.

Their Tru-Blu Ale and Beer are National's first.

September 1935
 24 September 1935 Joplin Missouri Globe
Within months, however, healthy sales of the canned beverage convinced Pabst it could sell its Blue Ribbon beer in cans.

Initially the brewer only changed the "Export" label by adding a blue ribbon.
But continued escalating sales finally convinced Pabst the beer can was here to stay, and within within a year they happily included the term "Blue Ribbon" on their PBR cans.


24 October 1935 Chest, Pennsylvania Times
But continued escalating sales finally convinced Pabst the beer can was here to stay, and within within a year they happily included the term "Blue Ribbon" on their PBR cans.
29 October 1935

Bowser & Miltenberger's patent for what would become known as the 1/16th Barrel 'Can-O-Draft'  is granted. 
In order to can beer, breweries had to buy expensive canning machinery; small breweries just couldn't dish out the revenue to install such equipment.
Peter Fox and Red Top Brewing Companies become the second and third to can their beers with National.

7 November 1935 Chicago Tribune
So Continental devised a tin can that could be filled with bottling machinery.  Cone top cans are essentially metal bottles, and many brewers just have to make a couple minor adjustments to turn their ordinary bottle assembly lines into cone top assembly lines
So Continental devised a tin can that could be filled with bottling machinery.  Cone top cans are essentially metal bottles, and many brewers just have to make a couple minor adjustments to turn their ordinary bottle assembly lines into cone top assembly lines

"COOL BEFORE SERVING"
The first beer cans reminded consumers to COOL BEFORE SERVING.  Apparently brewers feared people would overestimate the beer can's abilities - thinking it was such a revolutionary creation it could keep a product chilled indefinitely.
 Announcement canned Red Top Beer coming to North Carolina in September 1935
October 29, 1935

Bowser and Miltenberger's patent is granted.

November 1935 ad from American Brewer
The first beer cans reminded consumers to COOL BEFORE SERVING. Seems brewers feared people would overestimate the beer can's abilities - thinking it was such a revolutionary creation it could keep a product chilled indefinitely.

3 November 1935 LaCrosse WI Tribune & Leader Press
To keep this bottle-to-can link in folks' minds, and to appeal to those uncomfortable using the Church Key, Continental tagged their product with the moniker Cap Sealed.
Bowser and Miltenberger's invention is licensed by the Heekin Can Company of Cincinnati who, with the Burger Brewing Company (also of Cincinnati), package beer in this behemoth of a can.

As illustrated in Bowser & Miltenberger's patent, the inner workings of this can were fairly complex.  By design this device was a workable beer delivery system -- complete with valves, tubes, standpipes, and even an internally-mounted cork stopper.

What isn't clear from the patent is what lined the inside of the 248 oz monster, to protect the beer from contacting the metallic surfaces within.  Whatever it is, the can boasts it's made of a tasteless, odorless material.



Bowser and Miltenberger's invention is licensed by the Heekin Can Company of Cincinnati who, with the Burger Brewing Company (also of Cincinnati), package beer in this behemoth of a can.

As illustrated in Bowser & Miltenberger's patent, the inner workings of this can were fairly complex.  By design this device was a workable beer delivery system -- complete with valves, tubes, standpipes, and even an internally-mounted cork stopper.

What isn't clear from the patent is what lined the inside of the 248 oz monster, to protect the beer from contacting the metallic surfaces within.  Whatever it is, the can boasts it's made of a tasteless, odorless material.

During the beer can's first days, many drinkers attempted to return empty cans -- as they'd done with bottles for years.  So lots of beer cans from this time featured messages reminding users the beer can was not refillable.
1 November 1935 ad from the Miami News
Pabst's
trademark
application
shows that
TapaCan
was introduced to customers on 11 August 1935.
23 December 1935 ad for Burger Beer in cans
Continental ad that ran in numerous periodicals, from Sep - Oct
During the beer can's first days, many drinkers attempted to return empty cans -- as they'd done with bottles for years.  So lots of beer cans from this time featured messages reminding users the beer can was not refillable.
1936                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     1936
Early 1936

Continental attracts numerous breweries to the Cone Top, including Heileman, Berghoff, Beverwyck, and the brewer who'd first tried to cans its product
with Heekin: Burger.

26 December 1935 promotion run in newspapers, nationwide, touting Coors' decision to can with American Can
The success of Krueger, Pabst, and others attracts brewers like Scheidt, Ballantine, Waldorf, Fort Pitt, Genessee, Gunther, and Wehle.

Dozens begin canning with
the American Can
Company within a
year of
Krueger's
first.

Success of Krueger and Pabst attracts Scheidt, Ballantine, Waldorf, Fort Pitt, Genessee, Gunther, and Wehle.

All begin canning with American within a year of Krueger's first.
To keep a bottle-to-can link in folks' minds, and to appeal to those uncomfortable with the churchkey, CCC tagged
their product
with the
moniker
Cap Sealed
.

Burger Beer In Cap-Sealed Cans ad from October 1935
July '36
30 December 1935 Greenville South Carolina News ad
By the year's end, Stroudsburg, Kings, and Commonwealth breweries have asked to sign on with National Can Company.
By the year's end, Stroudsburg,
Kings,
and Commonwealth
breweries have asked
to sign on
with the
National Can
Company.


Continental makes two subtle changes to the structure of their cone top: the cone's "ribs" are raised, and its bottom is concave.  Previous design featured inverted ribs and flat bottoms - a much weaker container.
Though only six years old, Fortune Magazine was already a respected source for research sought by entrepreneurs.

In other words, the Beer Can had clearly arrived.
© 2001 - 2018,   Philip L. Thompson

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