The History Of Canning: Timeline

Dr. Richa Badola, AP (Food Technology), UCALS - Uttaranchal University, Dehradun

2018-03-05 08:16:41



Preservation of food has been a great concern since historic time. Various preservation methods such as drying, salting, smoking, etc were developed, but one of the greatest inventions was preservation of food by canning. Canning is the method of food preservation where food is treated by the application of heat alone, or in combination with pH and water activity and stored in hermetically sealed (air-tight) containers. Low-acid foods, such as meats, vegetables, dairy products, poultry and seafood are heated to 240°-265°F (116°-129°C), while acidic foods, such as fruits, tomatoes, jams, jellies, pickles and other preserves are heated to about 212°F (100°C). 

The canning process dates back to the late 18th century in France when the Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, concerned about keeping his armies fed, offered a cash prize to whoever could develop a cheap and effective method of food preservation.

Nicolas Francis Appert, a French confectioner and brewer (1749-1841), known as the “father of canning”, conceived the idea of preserving food in bottles, like wine. After 15 years of experimentation, he realized that food can be preserved if sufficiently heated and sealed in an airtight container (glass jars reinforced with wire and sealed with wax). In 1810, he was awarded the prize by the French military for his method of preservation. He created a factory called “The House of Appert” to produce bottled food using his method and also published a book named “The Art of Preserving Animal and Vegetable Substances”.

Appert chose glass for the container because he believed that it was air that caused the spoilage and glass is a material least penetrated by air. However, at that time, the processes involved in food spoilage was not understood, until the second half of the nineteenth century as a result of the work of scientists such as Louis Pasteur (1822–1895) on role of microorganisms in food spoilage and thus provided the explanation for canning's effectiveness.

Later, an Englishman, Peter Durand with the idea provided by Frenchman Philippe de Girard, took the process one step further and developed a method of sealing food in tin containers (easier to make, unbreakable and rust proof). The method was further perfected by Bryan Dorkin and John Hall, who set up the first commercial canning factory in England in 1813.

As more and more of the world was explored and wars became inevitable, the demand for canned foods grew and so was its research. In 1820, canning reached America when a man named William L. Underwood set up a cannery in Boston. He along with Samuel C. Prescott (an instructor in MIT’s Department of Biology) discovered that heating process is an important factor in food preservation and that in order to have a successful canning process, every point in the can had to be raised to the necessary temperature for the required length of time. Later, Gail Borden was the first to adapt this technology in the United States for the production of canned sweetened condensed milk produced using vacuum and was granted a patent on the process in 1856. Strangely, the can opener was developed in 1858 by Ezra J. Warner, 50 years after invention of can. After that a series of different designs were developed.

Mechanization of can-making arrived in the 1860s and another major breakthrough came in 1896 with the arrival of "double seaming" which made it possible to develop high-speed equipment for the making, filling and closing of these cans. Brands like Bovril and Heinz capitalized on these and other technological developments that all led to a faster and more efficient means of canning.

Overlapping with these developments, food preservation with glass jars with metal clamps and replaceable rubber rings had been invented. In 1858, John Landis Mason invented a glass container with a screw-on thread molded into its top and a lid with a rubber seal (popularly known as Mason jars). Wire-clamped jars such as Lightning and Atlas jars were in use from the late 19th century until 1964.

Another important invention was in 1974 when A.K. Shriver of Baltimore invented commercial steam pressure retort. The high pressure of retort reduced the processing time of most of the canned foods from hours to minutes. With the improved canning efficiency led by retorting process, other inventions also originated to handle the food faster.

Today’s canning industry uses high speed, high temperature and precise equipment that can produce a large volume of canned foods in a very short period of time. The canning industry has grown rapidly and is now a multi-billion dollar business.

The timeline below shows some of the major development related to this food preservation method.

Timeline of canning history


Napoleon Bonaparte (French government) offered award (12000 Francs) for a new method of preserving food.



Nicolas Appert (France), Father of Canning, devised an idea of packing food into special “bottles”, like wine and thus won the French award and prize money.


Peter Durand (British) received a patent from King George III for the idea of preserving food using tin cans.


Bryan Donkin and John Hall buys Peter Durand’s patent.


Robert Ayars (England) opens the first American cannery in New York, using improved tin-plated wrought-iron cans for preserving oysters, meats, fruits and vegetables.


Bryan Donkin and John Hall opened the first commercial canning factory in England.


Peter Durand introduced tinplated iron can in America.


Thomas Kensett Sr. and Ezra Daggett canned oysters, fruits, meats and vegetables in New York.


Kensett receives an American patent for tinplated cans.


Huntly and Palmer (England) start selling biscuits and cakes in decorated cans.


Henry Evans uses dies to increase production speeds tenfold.


Allan Taylor (American), patents a machine for stamping cylindrical can ends.


Henry Evans is granted the patent for the pendulum press, which when combined with a die device, makes a can end in a single operation. Production now improved from 5 or 6 cans per hour, to 50-60 per hour.


Henry Bessmer (England) discovers first (later on William Kelley, America, separately also discovers) the process of converting cast iron into steel.


Gail Borden is granted a patent on canned condensed milk.


Ezra J. Warner (Waterbury, Connecticut) patents the first can opener. This was used heavily by the US military during the civil war.


John L. Mason patents the Mason jar.


Louis Pasteur discovers microorganisms and their role in food spoilage.


E.M. Lang (Maine) is granted a patent for sealing tin cans by casting or dropping bar solder in measured drops on can ends.


J. Osterhoudt patented the tin can with a key opener.


Coca-Cola Company introduced the "Harlequin" design.


William Lyman patents a better can opener (rotating wheel, which cuts along the top rim of the can).

Hinged lid tin cans are introduced.


A.K. Shriver (American) of Baltimore invents commercial steam pressure retort


Arthur A. Libby and William J. Wilson (Chicago) develop the tapered can for canning corned beef.

Also, sardines are first packed in cans.


Hume “floater” introduced to float solder onto ends of cans as they roll along “the line”.


The simplified “side seamer” for cans appeared.


The Norton Brothers Company of Chicago invents semi-automatic can soldering equipment.


The Ball Corporation starts manufacturing glass jars for home canning.


Max Ams machine company developed modern double seam cans.


Samuel C. Prescott and William Underwood from Maine canneries, Russell in Wisconsin and Barlow in Illinois discovered the relationship between thermophillic bacteria and the spoilage of canned food.


George W. Cobb preserving company perfected the sanitary can.


Campbell produced first canned condensed soups.


Norton Brothers merges with 60 other firms to form the American Can Company (123 factories).


Kerr invented the easy-to-fill wide-mouth canning jar.


The Chemical Laboratory of American Can Company is established.


Tuna fish is first canned in California.


The basic biological and toxicological properties of Clostridium botulinum discovered.


Continuous ovens used to dry inked tinplate introduced.


Alexander Kerr developed the idea of a metal lid with a permanently attached gasket that a man named Julius Landsberger had invented.


Key-opening collar can for coffee introduced.


U.S. Department of Agriculture determines that pressure canning is the only safe way to process low-acid foods



Bigelow and Esty established the relationship between the acidity (pH) of foods and the heat resistance of bacterial spores. This determination laid the foundation for the classification of canned foods into acid foods and low-acid foods.



Charles Olin Ball (1893-1970) developed thermal death time studies which became the standard for the United States Food and Drug Administration for calculating thermal processes in canning.


Zinc oxide and other zinc compounds in enamel lining found to prevent discoloration of canned corn by Zinc sulphide (“Corn black”). Canned citrus juice cans first ship from Florida.


Eric Rotheim (Norway) develops the modern aerosol can. Canned dog food introduced by PH Chopped. Crimped lids are introduced in Europe.


The Hormel Company of Austin, Minnesota sold the first canned ham (SPAM).


Electrical can opener introduced (with a serrated edge which cuts along the top rim of the can).


Introduction of the beer can. The first beer can was “Krueger Cream Ale” – sold by the Kruger Brewing Company of Richmond, Virginia. Felifoel breweries in Wales introduce canned beer into the UK using cone shaped topped steel cans.


Carbonated soft drink canning began.


Aluminum was introduced in metal can making


First all-aluminum beer can introduced.


Ermal Fraze (Kettring, Ohio) invented the easy open can.


Easy-open can introduced.


Beverage can pull-tab was introduced.


Ernie Fraze (of Dayton, Ohio) together with the Dayton Reliable Tool Company and Alcoa invents the aluminium easy-open end.


Two piece can developed. Found to use less metal than the traditional three-piece can.


Aluminum beverage cans introduced. Tin-Free-steel (TFS chromium) cans also developed.


DWI (Drawn and Wall Ironed) aluminum cans developed in the US.


The first Tin Free Steel (TFS) cans made in the UK, pushed forward by UK Steel.


Multi-packs for beverage cans introduced (6-packs).


Aluminum cans dominate beverage market. Astronauts in outer space receive carbonated beverages in cans.


U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) first publishes its complete guide to home canning.


Retained ring pull ends for the beverage industry are introduced.


FDA publishes its first comprehensive Food Code.