The first beer can rolled onto the scene on January, 24, 1935, 75 years ago Sunday. The distinction belongs to Krueger who introduced it’s special Beer and Cream Ale in steel cans.
The largest supplier of beer cans today is the Ball Corporation. Formerly the makers of the iconic Ball canning jars, they now focus on high quality metal and PET containers.
The five founding Ball brothers started the company in 1880 in Buffalo, New York. Two of the brothers, Frank and Edmund, borrowed $200 from their Uncle George, a minister, to go into business selling wood-jacketed tin containers to hold paint, varnishes and kerosene. They named their business the Wooden Jacket Can Company. Their product was so successful they expanded their line. Soon, the brothers had refined their original product to tin-jacketed, glass-lined containers.
Innovation – Building a Better Beer Can
Beer cans have offered a light weight, durable alternative to glass beer packaging, with a large surface area for branding, making the cans very popular with marketers.
The first three-piece steel beer can weighed 35 ounces and required a “church key” for opening. Now aluminum cans that hold 12 ounces of beer weigh just .47 ounces and feature easy-open, stay-on tabs.
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.
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 unchanged since.
There have been other innovations that aren’t quite as obvious as the pull-tab. They include visual effects like colored tabs, magazine-quality printing and thermochromic ink that lets consumers know their beer is cold enough to drink.
Beer Cans – a Sustainable Solution
Tthe environment has probably gained the most from beer can innovations. Light weighting has been a fundamental part of Ball business for economic and environmental reasons. The size of the end diameter has been reduced five times, saving substantial amounts of aluminum each time.
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.
The can is also the most recycled package in the world.
In 2008 the U.S. aluminum can recycling rate was 54 percent, the highest rate for any beverage container. In Europe the rate was about 70 percent in 2007. Aluminum cans are 100 percent recyclable infinitely, and using recycled aluminum requires 95 percent less energy and generates 95 percent fewer emissions than producing can sheet material from bauxite ore.
The beer cans that don’t make it to the recycle center often are the center of some very clever designs and kitsch. The gallery slide show is just a small taste of how beer cans can be transformed.