Check them out again. Only one is newer than 1937.

I was shocked recently when I learned no fewer than four men -- Sanford E. Richeson and Julius E. Selliken in 1936, and Samuel Wark and Alfred Torem in 1937 -- designed the tab top can decades before many of us thought the thing was even conceived.

On October 6, 1936, Richeson applied for a patent on his Can Closure device.  Two and a half months later, on Christmas Eve, Selliken submitted his Attached Opener for Containers invention, and on September 22, 1937, Wark and Torem applied for a patent on what they simply called Beer Can.

Check the original patents out for yourself.  All are in PDF format.
First 1936 patent can be downloaded here.
The second 1936 patent is available here.
The 1937 patent can be downloaded here.

If you can't view or download PDF forms, I've placed some images and text from all three patents below:
 Click for larger image
Do these tab-tops look familiar to you? 
Amazingly, the second and third of these inventions resembled what would later become real beer can tops.

Both the 1960s Juice Tab (right, top), and the 1970s Push Button Top (bottom) had quasi-successful production runs, though neither design would become the dominant model of their time.  That honor would go to, for many years, the ring tab (similar to the second 1936 patent above), followed by the sta-tab, which has dominated the market for decades now.

But it's fascinating to see how close the 1930s inventors' designs resembled what would become functional designs three or four decades later.

Maybe the younger designers "borrowed" an idea or two from the older inventors...?

The technology to form a "rippable" tab from the same piece of metal used to top a beer can wouldn't come around until Ermal Fraze's time, and his feat wouldn't have been possible with the thick metal required for beer can lids in the pre-WWII days.  When the industry starting making lids from aluminum in the 50s, a lid workable enough to make "rippable" was inevitable.

And, interestingly, Fraze's first "rippable" top - his "sheet metal joints" invention - was fairly odd too, not resembling the traditional Zip Tab as closely as you might think.  For more about Mr. Fraze's revolutionary invention, see this page.

Incidentally, my favorite of these 1930s patents is the Richeson creation, because with some slight modifications I believe it would have actually worked - even with the limited technology of the time.  The problem would have been beer "slapping" as users tried to reseal their can, but it would've been a workable way to package an openable/reclosable beer can.  Which, to my knowledge, has never been marketed*, probably because there isn't much demand for a resealable 12 ounce beer!

Richeson's invention was not marketed, I'd guess, because -- though workable -- it would've been far too costly to produce, even in mass quantities.

* No, those metal bottles that appeared a few years back don't count as cans
© 2001 - 2011 Phil Thompson