Inspiring Inventions: The Can Opener

Ironically the can opener was invented 50 years after the idea of storing foods in cans. Before the can opener, you would open a can of food with a chisel and a hammer (and I imagine a lot of patience, and sincere love of peas)!

The can opener was invented in 1858 by Ezra J. Warner, of Connecticut. Warner’s can opener was a pointed blade with a “guard” attached–to keep the blade from penetrating too deeply into the can, along with a second blade. To open cans of food, you’d saw around the top. The parts of the can opener were nicknamed “the bayonet and the sickle.”


Useful during the Civil War, Warner’s can opener was used mostly in the Army and in grocery stores rather than individual homes. (Perhaps because of the can’s jagged edge after “sawing” the top off.)

There were many iterations of the can opener through history:

  • 1866 J. Osterhoudt invented the “unwinding” can–a can that opens itself. (Much like our modern pop-top or pull-tab cans.)
  • 1870 William Lyman invented the rotary can opener with one sharp rolling wheel that cuts the rim of the can.
  • 1925 The Star Can Co. of San Fransisco improved upon Lyman’s design and added a second rolling wheel to allow for a smoother, steadier cut. This design is the can opener that is still widely used today (unless, of course, you use an electric one)!

Thanks to Ezra Warner, and many other inventors after him, for creating a wonderful, modern convenience.


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