76 Years of Beer Cans

Today is the 76th anniversary of the beer can. In To commemorate the occasion, I am posting an excerpt from Brewing Battles: A History of American Beer (Algora, 20070), pages 106-107.

Krueger can. Photo courtesy of Brewery Collectibles Club of America.

The American Can Company had developed a viable beer can prior to Repeal. The company lined the can with enamel, thus earning the designation “keg-lined.” In 1933, the Gottfried Krueger Brewing Company of Newark, New Jersey engaged American Can to produce cans. The can company produced a trial run of two thousand Krueger Special Beer cans which contained 3.2 percent beer, the alcoholic content allowed by the modification of the Volstead Act. The test market approved of the taste of beer in cans, and Krueger went on to produce a line of canned beer which the company put on sale in Richmond, Virginia on January 24, 1935.[1]

The Gottfried Krueger Brewing Company dated from 1852. Its original name was Braun & Laible. By 1865 the name had changed to Hill & Krueger; Gottfried Krueger took over in 1875. In 1889, the brewery became part of the U.S. Brewing Company, Ltd of New York, a British brewing syndicate. After Repeal, Krueger reopened. A regional brewery, despite its’ brief moment of fame for canned beer, Krueger’s closed in 1960. Narragansett purchased the brand; when Falstaff purchased Narragansett, Krueger became one of its products.[2]

By September of 1935 American Can faced competition. Both National Can and Continental Can began producing lined cans. Crown Cork and Seal produced a cap that sealed Continental’s cans. American’s keg-lined cans required a special opener. By 1936 Continental felt sufficient confidence in its product to announce an advertising campaign in 200 newspapers representing a market of 193 cities.[3]

Both Pabst and Schlitz got on the can bandwagon early, but other brewers remained skeptical. By 1941 only 187 of the 507 United States brewers used cans. The light weight of the cans, which reduced shipping costs, provided further advantages to the national brewers.[4] By the late twentieth century beer cans had simultaneously become highly collectible as well as a major source of environmental pollution. Cans became the focus of brewers’ advertising as the trend towards off premises consumption intensified. With increased package sales, brewers changed their advertising approach. Not only did they have to promote beer as a healthy, family product, but the packaging had to sell this theme as well and be appealing in its own right.

For another take on the anniversary of the beer can, see http://ladiesocb.com/blog/happy-birthday-beer-can/

[1] Downard, Dictionary 64; “Beer Can History: The World’s First Beer Can,” Brewery Collectibles Club of America, http://www.bcca.com/history/overview4.php (accessed  July 17, 2007).

[2] Downard, Dictionary, 105.

[3] “Beer Listed and Canned,” Time, September 23, 1935; Baron, Brewed In America, 327.

[4] Downard, Dictionary, 44; Baron, Brewed in America, 246.

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