“Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.” – Benjamin Franklin
“You can’t be a real country unless you have a beer and an airline — it helps if you have some kind of a football team, or some nuclear weapons, but at the very least you need a beer.” – Frank Zappa
This week (Jan. 24) in 1935 the world changed forever. That is when the Krueger Brewing Company, partnering with the American Can Company, delivered the first canned beer to thirsty beer drinkers in Richmond, Va. Two thousand cans of Krueger’s Finest and Krueger’s Cream Ale were soon traveling down the throats of those grateful denizens of Richmond, eventually reaching their livers, bladders, and then toilets throughout the city. As Archie Bunker once observed, you don’t buy beer, you rent it.
Of course beer drinkers had been drinking beer for centuries, including draught beer in saloons and even bottled beer, but beer in cans had many distinct advantages over bottles. Cans chilled the beer faster; cans also were cheaper and disposable so there was no deposit on cans as there was on bottles. Also, cans didn’t break and were lighter. As a result, beer was more affordable and accessible — cans made beer more democratic!
Credit the American Can Company, which finally solved the problem of making a pressurized can, while also inventing a special coating that prevented the beer from chemically reacting to the tin that is a key ingredient in cans.
But also credit Krueger’s for taking a chance on canned beer. Although those Richmond beer drinkers generally gave those cans of Krueger’s a thumbs-up, sales started out slow. But Krueger’s stayed the course and after several months sales skyrocketed, cutting into the market share of “The Big Three,” Pabst, Schlitz and Anheuser-Busch. Soon those three brewmeisters also were producing canned beer, and by 1936 some 200 million cans of beer had been sold.
Interestingly, while the beer can itself has not changed dramatically, its top has. The original Krueger’s can had a flat top with no opening, necessitating development of a device to puncture the lid — today’s can opener or “church key.”
Next came the more convenient “pull tab,” which you yanked to open the can. Alas, pull tabs were an environmental nightmare. Pets died ingesting them, people cut their feet on them, and roadsides and beaches were littered with them.
That led to the “stay tab,” which worked like a pull tab but stayed on the can. Today stay tabs or twist tops are on most beer cans.
Leading us to our current state of bliss. As a wise and happy man once said, “Beer is the reason I get up in the afternoon.”