Ask Kate About Beer: When and why did breweries stop using pop-top cans?
Welcome to Ask Kate About Beer , in which The Takeout’s resident beer expert answers everything you’ve ever wanted to know about beer but were too drunk to ask. Have a question? Shoot it to [email protected]
Hey Kate, Recently when I was out hiking, I found an old rusty beer can with a pull-tab. I’m curious how old it is. When did breweries stop using these? And why?
I can’t resist a beer question that lets me do a bit of historical digging.
Beer and soda cans have gone through three major stages in the U.S. The first earliest beer cans, which debuted in 1935, sported a flat top that required a tool called a church key to open. This design had an obvious drawback: You needed to have the key—or some creativity—to open your can. Some breweries experimented with cone-top cans that could be opened with a standard bottle opener rather than a church key, but again, you had to have a tool on hand to get inside your can. The cone-top cans began to fall out of favor in the 1950s and were largely out of use by 1960. At this time, beer was still overwhelmingly consumed on draft or in bottles; only a quarter of beer in the U.S. was consumed in cans in 1953, according to Beer Can Collecting: America’s Fastest Growing Hobby .
By 1963, a Dayton, Ohio man named Ernie Fraze thought he had a better idea. He invented and patented the pull-tab beer can , the type you found. The can had a built-in tab that eliminated the need for a tool, a big improvement in terms of convenience. But the tabs and rings had their drawbacks, too.
“You could cut your finger badly on them. The tab, which was then replaced by a ring, would sometimes pull off and leave you with this sharp jagged piece of metal sticking up,” Dr. Mark Benbow, a beer-can collector and a history professor at Marymount University, tells The Takeout. “The very first ones were known as ‘finger rippers’.”
Welcome to Ask Kate About Beer, in which The Takeout’s resident beer expert answers everything you’ve ever wanted to know about beer but were too drunk to ask. Have a question? Shoot it to [email protected]