History of the Modern Can

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The History of the Modern Can: Sustenance and Reliability
Word Count: 3,415
The modern can is something that most people take for granted each time they make a trip to their local supermarket. The can is an invention that evolved from war, as many great inventions do. Over time new technological innovations have given rise to better technologies to make cans and preserve food for longer periods of time. The early can’s conception was advanced yet simple, among the top inventions of the world. Millions today continue using cans as a means of preserving food and spreading charity for those less fortunate.

In the year 1795; Napoleon Bonaparte is only a few years away from establishing himself Emperor of France. The French were in command of a massive army and navy. Yet, even an army and navy have to eat at some point. Supply lines are established during war times and even during peace times to feed combatants. Napoleon realized that he would need to have a properly fed army and navy is he were to be successful. The much needed food would almost always arrive spoiled. The military could either eat rotten food or go hungry. After all, eating spoiled food would cause troops to become sick and sailors had to deal with the threat of scurvy. Something had to be done. In response to rising issues, Napoleon issued a challenge to anyone who could devise a means of preserving food. The winner would receive 12,000 francs or just over 13,000 United States Dollars. Fourteen years later, in 1809, a Frenchman by the name of Nicolas Appert won the prize.

Appert was a French confectioner, chef, and distiller. This background made it possible for him to have access to many materials necessary for canning. After 14 years of experimentation, Appert had devised a way to preserve food and still retain flavor. The method involved using glass bottles or jars and filling them with any types of soups, stews, jams, etc, then corked tightly and boiled for several hours. The jars had to have no air in them and be sealed with cork, wax, and wire for the boiling process to work. Nicolas Appert had devised an ingenious invention. This method of preserving food rivaled that of ancient times:

The first forms of preserving were drying food by wind and sun, or over heat, smoking, and in some areas salting or freezing. Next, the curdling of milks,pickling, and preserving in fat were added to the ancient techniques, and then preserving in sweet syrup or alcohol. (Black 62)

Napoleon utilized Appert’s canning method with remarkable results. However, Appert is only a fragment of the canning story. The counterpart to Appert is Peter Durand, an Englishman. Durand is considered “the Father of Canning” (“ROMANCE Of The TIN CAN” 70). Appert’s real contribution was finding a way to process food. It was Durand who, in 1810, actually “canned” food. Durand obtained a patent from the king of England on a tin plate canister. Durand’s can was much like what one would see in a store today: cylindrical. When you say “canning” today, most likely “factory” comes to mind. However, Durand made his cans entirely by hand and the process was extremely lengthy and the cans were sealed so tightly a hammer and chisel was required to open them.

The material composition of Durand’s was simple yet tough: tinned iron. The method that he used went as so:
Using shears and a soldering iron, a tinsmith cut an oblong piece of tin, curved it and soldered its ends together to form the body. Then he cut a round piece for the bottom of the can, bending its edges over a circular mandrel, and soldered this on one end. After this was filled with fruit, fish, vegetable or meat, a similar round piece was soldered on the top. A small hole was left in the top so that air could escape as the food in the can expanded while the can boiled. With the can still hot, a drop of solder closed the hole. (“ROMANCE Of The TIN CAN” 72) The solder that was used...
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