When was beer first sold in cans?

Thrown away since 1935 (photo by How can I recycle this? CC-BY)

Thrown away since 1935 (photo by How can I recycle this? CC-BY)

It was not until January 24, 1935, that beer was successfully sold in cans. It was to revolutionize the manufacture, distribution and consumption of beer. It also resulted in two slightly different ways of packaging.

Apart from Prohibition delaying the introduction of beer cans, the brewer and can manufacturer had to overcome two main problems. The beer exerted more pressure on the can than food, and a lining was needed to stop the beer being discoloured and the taste being affected by the metal and lead solder of the can.

Two companies were successful in developing a solution to the problem of the lining, albeit using different methods. The American Can Company produced a number of sample cans for the Gottfried Krueger Brewery of Newark, New Jersey, in 1933, and after a successful trial, Krueger’s Ale and Beer in 12 ounce cans with a flat top was sold to the public on January 24, 1935, in Richmond, Virginia. They were advertised as ‘keg-lined’, suggesting that it gave it the same taste as draft keg beer. A special opener was required for the can.

Other breweries quickly took up the product and American Can Company’s adverts where quick to promote the simplicity of the product: easy to store, disposable, and easy to handle.

“Can anything beat a well-chilled can of beer, a the end of a wilting day? Beer just out of the ice box? Then a long, cool swallow after swallow of your favorite brew? …You don’t mean to say you haven’t tasted beer from cans trade-marked “Keglined”? Great Scot, man! You don’t know how good beer can be! Or how convenient!”

The Continental Can Company meanwhile produced a can with a bottle cap to seal it. Thus an ordinary bottle opener was all that was required. Schlitz Beer appeared on the market in these cans, but stacking and storage was not so practical as with the flat top cans.

Although producing canned beer was slightly more costly than bottles, canned beer was an immediate success with the public. ($24 dollars per thousand for cans compared with $21.83 for bottles, and the bottle could be returned on deposit and reused.)[1]

In October 1935, the New York Times reported that “quick public acceptance of canned beer has induced can makers to plan an output of 1,500,000,000 beer cans for next year, it was announced yesterday by the American Iron and Steel Institute.”

Not everyone was so enthusiastic. The substitution of cans for beer bottles was condemned by the American Federation of Labor Union Label Departments; and there were many complaints that the roads and parks were now littered with discarded beer cans.

[1] Montreal Gazette of December 31, 1935 – Not stated, but believed to be Canadian dollars.

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