At dinner last evening, BBBH and I engaged in conversation which stemmed from a remark she made concerning a historical novel she is reading in which canned food was mentioned.
Wait! you might say. A conversation at dinner? What is this novelty of which you write?
True, is the reply. It is not unknown in this household to sit at table for repast without the accompaniment of the blaring TV, engaging one another in brilliant repartee.
Back to the tale at hand. She questioned the historical accuracy, thinking that possibly the author had committed an anachronism. I doubt it, I replied, for though I do not know the history of canned foodsuffs, I am quite sure that it goes back as far as the early part of the nineteenth century.
To which she replied, we need to look it up; and I responded, What a great idea, Dear! It is a fitting subject for a blogpost.
So here we have it, thanks in largest measure to Tinplate Group which maintains an informative website.
In 1809, a Frenchman, Nicholas Appert discovered that food could be preserved by sealing it in an airtight jar and heating it. The process obviously worked as demonstrated by empirical evidence, but no one knew why, inasmuch as the effect of microbial creatures on foods, and the effects of heating on those creatures, were both unknown.
By 1811, Englishmen John Hall and Bryan Donkin had developed a metal can in which to process foods. Their can was made of iron and coated with tin, and while it was virtually unbreakable, it also required a hammer and chisel with which to open it!
Because canned goods were very expensive throughout most of the nineteenth century, they were available primarily to the well-to-do.
Finally, however, "tin" cans were being made from very thin sheets of steel, rather than iron, though still dip-coated with tin.
Most cans were made from three pieces, a rectangle rolled into a cylinder, and a top and a bottom. Today, many cans are made from a two-piece process, and thus you do not see a seam on the side of your soft drink can, nor on many other products as well.
Both steel and aluminum cans are produced and used, and discarded, by the millions every day. Small wonder that we need to be more attentive to the process of recycling!