The early can designs required a special tool to open called the “church key.”
The first cans were introduced, unsurprisingly, by one of the fastest moving, ‘disruptive’ industries… commercial beer. Soda followed suit after figuring out their combustibility challenges in confining their carbonated drinks to high-pressure cans. The next challenge was taste.
The liquid and metal reacted to cause some pretty awful tasting drinks. This was solved by a plastic or waxy film inside the can, which is still used in the cans in some shape or form today. Cans were cheaper for consumers and producers alike but until they figured out solving the taste challenge the adoption of the can was slow.
Cans started with crown corks, similar to what we see on glass bottles. When crown corks were done away with the “church key” was needed to punch a small hole in the top of the tin and a second hole to allow airflow.
The recyclable aluminium can was introduced at the start of the 1960s and at the same time Ermal Fraze devised the pull-tab. This was ground-breaking because nobody would need to carry around their “church key” any longer. Fraze invented a pull-ring lever that had a pre-scored wedge attached to a ring, which made the whole process much simpler.
The pull-tab went from hero to zero though because people were throwing the pull-tabs all over and even worse, were dropping them into their cans and choking on them. The solution was the push-tab which resulted in people cutting their fingers when pushing the tab down. The serious tin can maiming of the 1960s called for innovation and Daniel F. Cudzik delivered nearly a decade later, coming through for all the tin can early adopters that pushed through. Cudzik introduced the aluminium lever we know today, which pushed the pre-scored tab down and allowed safe consumption.
The can was more than just practical. It opened up a world of possibilities to the creative world with printed cans being able to display any range of colours and graphics.