The Real Reason Can Openers Were Invented Decades After Canned Food

If you're hungry, the last thing you'd want to deal with is having to hammer through an iron and tin can. In the past, that's exactly how you would open canned goods, according to Today I Found Out. You needed an actual hammer and chisel to get to preserved food

In 1795, military commander Napoleon Bonaparte offered 12,000 francs to anyone who could figure out a way to feed troops on long journeys and extended battles. Fifteen years later, Parisian inventor Nicholas Appert, sometimes called the "father of food science," won the prize by storing food in sealed bottles (via Can Manufacturers Institute). Though Appert's idea allowed food to be preserved and transported, the glass bottles would break during transit. English merchant Peter Durand improved upon Appert's design by creating a sturdier container made from iron and tin, but only six of these cumbersome cans could be made in an hour, reports Smithsonian Magazine.

Thankfully, we're not still bashing cans with hammers (only in really desperate situations), and we have can openers to pry open cans of peas. But if Durand created tin cans in 1810, why did it take several decades to invent a can-opening device? 

Progress takes time

Mercifully, those chunky tins designed by Durand were eventually streamlined. By 1846, machines were manufacturing one can each minute, and the material of the cans was much lighter than the initial design (via ThoughtCo.). With thinner cans to break into, American inventor Ezra J. Warner saved hungry people everywhere and developed the first can opener. His 1858 creation never really took off, as his design was an intimidating tool that would turn cans into dangerously sharp objects — only the U.S. Army and stoic grocery store workers would handle them, according to Connecticut History.

In time, small improvements were made, and in 1925, the serrated-wheel tool you have in your kitchen drawer was produced (per Vice). Since this hand-held contraption wasn't practical for restaurants and businesses needing to open many cans at once, the Bonzer Benchtop opener came to the rescue in the 1940s and is still used to this day (via Mitchell & Cooper). Baked beans, anyone?