HISTORY OF THE BEVERAGE CAN
| The can, a universally accepted
container for many foods, came tip-toeing into the market place as a substitute for the
bottling of beer.
Technicians at the American Can Company, even before prohibition, began toying with the idea of putting beer in a can. As early as 1929, Anheuser-Busch and Pabst experimented with the canning process. Schlitz even proposed a can design that looked like a small barrel.
| A much sturdier container than
that used for food products was required to withstand the 80 to 90 psi pressure of
pasteurization, In contrast to the 25 to 30 psi used in food processing.
The major problem the early researchers were confronted with, however, was not strength, but the can's liner. Several years and most of the early research funds were spent to solve this perplexing problem. Beer has a strong affinity for metal, causing precipitated salts and a foul taste. The brewers called the condition "metal turbidity".
The American Can Company produced the flat or punch top can in 1934. The lining was made from a Union Carbide product called "Vinylite", a plastic product which was trademarked "keglined" on September 25, 1934.
Unlike the bottle, the can could be made in many shapes and designs, and the brewers liked the ability to use the whole can's surface to promote brand recognition.
While the punch top can lent itself to rapid filling, the equipment required was expensive. The Continental Can Company recognizing this limitation to the punch top can developed a new shape they called a "cap sealed" or cone top can. This new can, similar in shape to a bottle, could be used with existing bottle filling lines.
Continental hit upon a waxy compound which they sprayed on to form the can liner. Their early advertising stated that "the liner is applied after the can is made, further ensuring a complete seal between the metal and the beer".
| The first design by Continental had a
low spout (called low profile cone top) with depressed reinforcing ribs and a flat bottom.
It was produced until about 1936. There are no true soda cone top cans of this design,
although the Dr Phillips fruit juice can produced by Crown Cork & Seal
has a flat bottom and a low profile spout without ridges.
The next design by Continental was still low profile, but had raised ribs on the spout and a concave bottom to better resist the pressure from the product. The Clicquot Club and the Dari-Seltz brands are examples of this design.
The last change by Continental to the cone top can was to replace the low profile spout with a ribless high profile top. This change was made about 1940, and there are many examples of soda cones with this design.
Three more players choose to join the scramble for
the can business before the 1930's decade ended. National Can and Pacific Can produced the
punch top can, and Crown Cork & Seal Company purchased the Acme Can Company of
Philadelphia, PA in 1936 and produced a high profile three piece cone top can, and a two
piece necked can called a "crowntainer". The crowntainer was used extensively
for beer, but no soda cans of this design have been found.
EARLY MARKET TESTING OF BEVERAGE CANS
After American Can Company acquired the "Keglined" trademark in 1934, they were anxious to try their new punch top beverage can in the market place.
They spent three months of intense negotiations with the brewery of Gottfried Krueger of Newark, New Jersey to coach Krueger's Beer into the revolutionary new containers.
Krueger was very apprehensive about the test, but finally choose the outer limits of its distribution area for their product in a can. Richmond, Virginia was the city picked for the test, and on January 24, 1935, the first delivery of Krueger Cream Ale was received and exposed to the beer drinkers of Richmond.
Within a week, 47% of the distributors in Richmond were handling Krueger's canned beer. At the end of a month, no less than 84% of the distributors were handling it. In the next couple of months Krueger jarred the industry by taking large chunks of the business of the "big three" national brewers, Anheuser-Busch, Pabst, and Schlitz.
|By June of 1935, Krueger
was running at 550% of its pre-can production, and was finally unable to keep up with
It was evident that the consumer liked the can's no-deposit feature as well as their being stackable, non-breakable, and fast cooling.
|The consumers likes were certainly noted by the large breweries. During July of 1935, Pabst began distributing a striking blue and silver can carrying the "Export" label on a punch top can with opening instructions on the back of the label. The cans were first sold in Rockford, Illinois, and then spread southward.|
Schlitz, trying to make up its mind about canning beer, suddenly quit wondering and went into action. In September of 1935, they became the first and the only major brewery to use Continental's new spout top can. Schlitz stayed with the cone top can until the early 1950's.
That first year of beer in cans ended with over 200 million cans being sold. Twenty three brewers had begun using cans, with the can company's score being: American Can- 12 brewers, Continental Can- 8 brewers, and National Can- 3 brewers.
The can makers of course were enthusiastic about the
future of the can and were optimistically predicting over a billion and a half cans would
be sold in 1936.
THE WAR... BOTTLE MAKERS FIGHT BACK
During the early can era, bottle makers were less than enthusiastic about the prospect of cans eroding their long standing market, and caustic exchanges were common concerning the attributes of bottles versus cans. The "bottle man" would speak of the poor quality and metallic taste of beer in a can, and the "can man" would counter that light was bad for beer, "makes it go skunky". One skeptical brewmaster reportedly convinced himself of the purity of newly developed can linings by ripping them out of three cans, swallowing, and digesting them with no ill effects.
Pro's and con's abounded in the battle of the bottle versus the can. The standard beer bottle would return to the brewer twenty five times for refilling, the can of course was a one shot, non-returnable container.
With the cost of beer at a whopping $.10, the can proved to be an expensive proposition for the brewers and caused the move to cans by the industry as a whole to be fairly slow. The high cost was partially off-set by the ease of handling and delivery of cans. The cans weighed less than bottles, and a truck could carry 400 cases of cans compared to only 200 cases of bottles. Distribution range could also be increased from about a 30 mile radius of the brewery with returnable bottles, to as much as 400 miles with cans.
Always at the center of the controversy was the lining whose sole function was to keep the beverage away from the can. The glass maker would contend that a reliable lining for beer cans had yet to be devised, and can maker would cite proof of the "glass hard" lining within the cans.
Advertisements of the period reflected the war going on between bottles and cans, and salvo's were fired from both sides as to the merits of their containers.
Owens-Illinois, the largest bottle maker of the time, fought an early battle in 1935 with an entirely new throw-away bottle design called "stubby". Stubby was well received and by the end of 1935, more brewers were using them than were trying cans.
In the late 1930's cans were accounting for only about eight percent of the beverage container market, and by 1941 they had captured only a ten percent share of the business.
The beginning of World War II accomplished a
feat that the bottle makers could not... it stopped the production of cans to the domestic
market, limiting them to stateside military bases and military units overseas.
SOFT DRINKS IN CANS
After opening up the market for beer in cans, attention was directed by the can companies to another area of great potential sales, the canning of soft drinks.
The technical problems in canning soda was similar to those of canning beer. The product was, however, more acidic, and the pressures of the carbonation in soft drinks was somewhat greater.
Continental Can Company was the first to break into the new market. In 1938, the Clicquot Club Company of Mills, Massachusetts agreed to fill 100,000 cases of Continental's low profile cone top can with ginger ale. Leakage, and flavor absorption problems of the wax applied over the liner halted active consideration of soda in cans for several years.
After World War II ended, the can companies again focused their attentions on the use of cans for soda beverages. With an improved liner, and a stronger can, Continental Can received an approval from Pepsi-Cola in 1948 to test their cola in a cone top can.
In 1949, Cantrell & Cochrane Corp, teamed up with Continental to begin marketing a multi flavor line in a cone top can.
Resistance to the use of the can for soft drinks began to crumble by the early 1950's, and in 1953 with the removal of Korean War price controls, the market was ready for the can.
The cone top can as well as the punch top can both began a steady advance on the bottle market to win the pocketbooks of the soda drinking consumer.
The can companies, while doing well with the small fry in the soda industry, needed a break-through with one of the major bottlers, and of course Coca-Cola was the ultimate prize.
|Coca-Cola had taken a look at cone top cans before World War II, but had not shown much interest in the product. When Royal Crown began to nibble at Coca-Cola's market share with a major promotions of its product in punch top cans, Coca-Cola's resistance to cans lessened.|
"You may be able to put Coke in a can but what comes out isn't Coca-Cola. It's a soft drink, non-toxic, but with a flavor that's as far removed from Coca-Cola as ginger ale is from India Ale" (Business Week, February 12, 1955).
The non-returnable can as a container for Coca-Cola was not completely overlooked by management in the transition from wartime economy in the early 1950's, but they saw many problems with its use and were noticeably apprehensive about public acceptance.
Life-styles were undergoing a radical change due in large part to the magic of television and the desire for more leisure time activities. What's now referred to as the "Package Revolution" also was gathering strength during this era, so with two-thirds of all soft drinks destined for the take-home market, Coca-Cola made its move to cans.
The move was a crawl, not a rush. In 1955, through the Coca-Cola Export Corporation, Coke was put in cans for shipment to Japan and throughout the Pacific for consumption by our military personnel.
Next, cans were tested in steel plants in Gary, Indiana, and to railroads, steamship companies, and air lines. In September 1959, Coca-Cola launched domestic market tests for canned product in five cities along the eastern seaboard and on the west coast.
The company was still not without mis-givings about canning Coca-Cola. The taste was there... but so was the taste of steel. They also thought that only a few of their bottlers would be able to afford their own canning lines. In a business week article appearing on May 21, 1960 a company official was quoted as saying, "Some of our bottlers don't want cans and we have no intention of forcing anybody to take them".
But, the tide was turning in the direction of canned soft drinks. The public enjoyed the convenience and buyers appreciated the handling advantage of the product in cans. Competition was also aware of the new package. Royal Crown had become the largest canner of soft drinks by 1960, and some of the smaller beverage companies were capitalizing on drinks in cans and clamoring for a bigger share of the soft drink market.
Coca-Cola's independent bottlers finally stopped wondering about cans and started using them. The largest franchised Coca-Cola bottler in the East, Norfolk, Virginia, set up its own canning operation in 1960. In 1962, the Los Angeles bottler became the first Coca-Cola bottler to promote in a "Major Way" the sale of Coke in 12 ounce cans.
In 1966, the company announced a completely new design called "Harlequin" (Small Diamond) for all one way packaging of Coca-Cola. Store tests had confirmed that the new design on cans was more quickly recognized in retail shelves than competitive can brands.
Introduction of the new can style brought with it a new degree of enthusiasm for the canned product as shown in an excerpt from "The Cola Call Bottler", June 1966:
"In view of the summer sales season coming up for soft drinks in cans, the Coca-Cola Company has provided bottlers a plan guide for a special summer can sales program. It contains ideas to help expand distribution and conduct promotional effort on behalf of all of our products in cans."
"To back up this emphasis on cans, a strong national magazine schedule is being launched. An upbeat magazine add will deliver 34,000,000 consumer impressions in 11 magazines."
By 1957, fifteen million cases of canned soda beverages were sold, with production limited to approximately 40 brands. In 1960, there were 68 can-filling lines across the country, producing 820 million punch or flat top cans, mostly the 12 ounce size.
Approximately 2.4 billion gallons of carbonated beverages was sold in cans in 1979 which amounted to 38% by volume of all soft drinks produced, and the can, just another innovative package for soft drinks, had made its mark.
The cone top can which had started the rise of the metallic container for soda beverages to a lofty position in the industry began loosing ground to the punch top can. As demand grew for soft drinks in cans, filling speed became an important factor.
In light of the changing markets, Continental Can Company, the last major producer of cone top cans, decided to halt promotion and production of the can shaped like a bottle in the late 1950's. Thus ended an interesting and exciting era in soft drink history, and began an inter- esting and exciting era for soda memorabilia collectors.
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