Would you believe it, the simple tin can’s journey started in France!
All because Napoleon was losing more troops from hunger and scurvy than in combat, he therefore offered a prize of 12,000 francs (£250,000 today) to anyone who could invent a method of preserving food for his armies.
Coincidently, a Frenchman, Nicholas Appert, had for 15 years been experimenting by partially cooking food, then sealing it in bottles with cork stoppers and plunging those bottles into boiling water. You see as a Frenchman, he knew that wine exposed to air went off, therefore, he experimented with putting food in an airtight container, expelling the air, to see if it stayed fresh.
Eventually, it did! So, they then put 18 different things, sealed in glass containers to sea for four months, partridges, vegetables, gravy, etc. They all retained their freshness, however, they were in glass bottles.
This is where the British came in, as it was obvious if the French soldiers could travel further and longer on their provisions, then they needed to as well. Peter Durand, a British merchant, reckoned that if he made a cannister of iron and coated it with tin, it wouldn’t rust or corrode, seal it, and it wouldn’t break. It would be reliable and easy to handle. On August 25, 1810 he received a patent for this from King George III of England.
Then, two Englishmen, Bryan Donkin and John Hall, set up the first commercial canning factory in Bermondsey, England in 1812. Within a year the British Army were providing soldiers with food in tins. By 1818 the Royal Navy were using 24,000 cans each year. The nutritious canned vegetables were a great relief to sailors, who had previously relied on live cargo or salted meat, which regularly gave them scurvy.
The new tin cans then moved into civilian life and developed into what we have today.
I am sure you would like to know; did Nicholas Appert get his prize money? Well, he did, however, only on the proviso that he didn’t keep it secret. So, he wrote a book that described the process in detail, guess how Peter Durand developed the tin can so quickly!
Isn’t history interesting?