Happy 85th Birthday to the Beer Can
Submitted by Morris Howard
Canned beer makes its debut on January 24, 1935. In partnership with the American Can
Company, the Gottfried Krueger Brewing Company delivered 2,000 cans of Krueger’s
Finest Beer and Krueger’s Cream Ale to faithful Krueger drinkers in Richmond, Virginia.
Ninety-one percent of the drinkers approved of the canned beer, driving Krueger to give
the green light to further production.
By the late 19th century, cans were instrumental in the mass distribution of foodstuffs, but
it wasn’t until 1909 that the American Can Company made its first attempt to can beer.
This was unsuccessful, and the American Can Company would have to wait for the end of
Prohibition in the United States before it tried again. Finally in 1933, after two years of
research, American Can developed a can that was pressurized and had a special coating
to prevent the fizzy beer from chemically reacting with the tin.
The concept of canned beer proved to be a hard sell, but Krueger’s overcame its initial
reservations and became the first brewer to sell canned beer in the United States. The
response was overwhelming. Within three months, over 80 percent of distributors were
handling Krueger’s canned beer, and Krueger’s was eating into the market share of the
“big three” national brewers–Anheuser-Busch, Pabst and Schlitz. Competitors soon
followed suit, and by the end of 1935, over 200 million cans had been produced and sold.
The purchase of cans, unlike bottles, did not require the consumer to pay a deposit.
Cans were also easier to stack, more durable and took less time to chill. As a result, their
popularity continued to grow throughout the 1930s, and then exploded during World War
II, when U.S. brewers shipped millions of cans of beer to soldiers overseas. After the war,
national brewing companies began to take advantage of the mass distribution that cans
made possible, and were able to consolidate their power over the once-dominant local
breweries, which could not control costs and operations as efficiently as their national
From the beginning, cans have offered a light weight, durable alternative to glass beer
packaging, with a large surface area for branding. The first three-piece steel beer can
weighed 35 ounces and required a church key for opening. Since that time, can makers
have worked to continuously improve the cylindrical package; today aluminum cans that
hold 12 ounces of beer weigh just .47 ounces and feature easy-open, stay-on tabs.
The first steel beer cans featured flat tops or cone tops. The cone top cans appealed to
small brewers who could fill the cans using the bottling lines they already had instead of
buying new can filling equipment. The first aluminum beer cans debuted in the U.S. in
1958. These cans were made of just two pieces - the base and the body were made from
one piece, and the end, or lid, was seamed on later. That is essentially the same process
Ball uses to make beer cans today.
In 1963 the first pull tab beer cans appeared on the market. Consumers loved them
because they no longer needed to use an opener, but the used and discarded tabs
raised questions about litter and safety. In 1975, the first fixed or stay tab beer can was
introduced. The safe and convenient design caught on and has remained relatively
In recent years, there have been many innovations to the beer can which have benefitted
brewers and consumers alike. They include visual effects like colored tabs, magazine-
quality printing and thermochromic ink that lets consumers know their beer is cold
enough to drink; as well as smooth-pouring ends and Ball's Alumi-Tek® bottle, which
provides all the advantages of the beer can with the extra benefit of reclosability. These
continuing improvements have helped keep cans a beer package of choice.
light weighting has been a fundamental part of the value of cans for economic and
environmental reasons. The size of the end diameter has been reduced many times,
saving substantial amounts of aluminum each time. The newest cans use over 10 percent
less aluminum per end than its predecessor. The amount of aluminum used for the can
body has also continually been reduced. Today's 12-oz. aluminum can uses about 40
percent less aluminum than in 1970, from about 22 to 34 cans per pound today.
Special mention must be made of Oskar Blue Brewing in Colorado. Seventeen years ago,
they made the bold decision to package their flagship brew Dale’s Pale Ale into crushable
and portable cans. They were the very first craft brewery to step away from glass and
switch to aluminum, it led the charge in the craft beer canning revolution.
Beer cans have come a long way since 1935 and beer drinkers are the better for it. So
lets raise a can and toast the can on it's just passed 85th Birthday!
beernexus.com - SPECIAL REPORT
History of the Beer Can
|Note - we do not verify authorship of submissions.
Froman article on history.com