Can Openers

Tinplate canisters or “cans” for food were developed by the Frenchman Nicholas-François Appert and the Englishman Peter Durrand in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. It was thanks to Louis Pasteur’s work on bacteria and improvements in sterilization that by 1860 canning had become commercially viable. It established the emerging food-processing industry, delivered more reliable food supplies, and led to new forms of food retailing. The earliest can openers were of the “spike and blade” variety. A spike was driven into the top of the can and the lid cut off with the blade. Although still on sale until the late 1930s they were superseded by the “blade and cogwheel” type with “butterfly” handles. These cut off the lid far more cleanly. They were usually made of either all steel or with wooden handles and are still on sale today, usually with plastic bodies and steel blades and cogs.

The 1950s and 1960s saw the variety of canned goods increase. Wall-mounted can openers were introduced with gear-driven cutting wheels operated by a handle. Most featured a magnet to hold the lid once it had become separated from the body of the can. They were available in a range of colors to match the increasingly brighter kitchen units of the time. In 1968 Sunbeam produced an electric combination can opener/knife sharpener in avocado green.

Electric openers became available in the 1960s, either as wall-mounted or free-standing appliances. The can is placed against the cutting wheel and held in place by a lever. The motor drives the blade around the can, switching itself off automatically once the can is open. Black & Decker currently produce seven types, some with built-in knife sharpeners and bottle openers.