Anniversary of Canned Beer, January 24, 1935
Posted by Bob Skilnik on January 29, 2008
On January 24, 1935, the Gottfried Krueger Brewing Company in Newark, New Jersey introduced the so-called “Keglined” can. This non-returnable container, manufactured by the American Can Company, offered a number of advantages over breakable deposit bottles. Retailers and tavern owners liked them since a twenty-four-can case weighed about half as much as a case of bottled beer, took up less shelf space, were easily stackable and offered some control over employee pilferage over draft products. Beer drinkers took notice of the fact that canned beer took up less room in household refrigerators, mechanical dwarves at the time in comparison with today’s giants. For those brewers who could afford canning machines, the lighter canned beers gave them a lower-cost alternative in shipping their beers into distant markets. American Can’s efforts were soon duplicated by the National Can Company and the Continental Can Company. Although the use of these dinosaurs of beer packaging was phased out by 1970, their lasting legacy is the pointed can opener, nicknamed a “church key,” that’s still employed in today’s kitchens to open some canned fruit and vegetable juices.
The cost of a canning line, however, was more than many of the smaller breweries could afford. A conical-shaped can offered an alternative for those breweries with bottling lines; the coned cans could also be run through the same lines. Regional brewery G. Heileman of La Crosse, Wisconsin was the first brewery to use conicals, with Schlitz following soon after. In addition to the newly introduced flat and coned cans, stubby-shaped, non-returnable bottles called “steinies” were introduced, lighter in weight than standard beer bottles, but still no match for cans’ retail advantages.
By the beginning of World War II, packaged beer had surpassed sales of draft beer, 51.7 percent to 48.3 percent. For those breweries that had settled on the distribution of draft beer after Repeal, the continued shift to drinking at home and the introduction of these new containers now made the purchase of a bottling or canning line imperative for breweries.