when was the can opener invented

When Was the Can Opener Invented? Men Behind the Invention

Can openers can be easy to take for granted. However, if you’ve ever got stuck without one, you’ll know that getting a can open without any tool can be tricky.

But when was the can opener invented? The first can opener model was patented in 1855 in the United Kingdom. Let’s take a deeper look into the history of this essential device, and start with which came first – the can or can openers?

Which Was Invented First, the Can or the Can Opener?

You may be surprised to learn that canned food was invented well before the first can openers were conceived. In fact, there were 45 years between the invention of the tin canning process for preserving food and that of the first can openers.

When Were the First Cans Invented?

Food canning was invented by the British merchant Peter Durand who King George III awarded a patent for the food preservation method in 1810. These first cans were metal boxes made from wrought iron and tin and weighed considerably more than the food inside.

Thinner tin-lead alloy models superseded Peter Durand’s heavy iron cans, followed by steel and aluminium ones.

How Did People Open Tin Cans Before Can Openers?

The manufacturer’s suggested method for opening the very first tin cans was to “cut all around the top close to the outer edge with a hammer and chisel”.

Obviously, a hammer and chisel wasn’t a practical solution to open cans and something better needed to be found.

Who Invented the First Can Opener?

In 1855, a British inventor named Robert Yeates patented the first can opening tool. 

Yeates lever-type can tool had a simple design with a straight handle and a short, claw-like curved blade to cut open the tin can, leaving quite a jagged edge.

Yeate's lever-type

Further Early Can Opener Designs

In 1858, a more complicated lever-type opener became the first design patented in the United States by the American inventor Ezra Warner. Warner designed his opener to open thinner steel cans and had a sharp pointed blade to puncture the can and a second curved blade to saw off the lid.

This opener had the advantage of its cutting components being readily replaced, and the US Army used it during the American Civil War. However, although Warner’s invention was fine for the army’s food, it was considered too dangerous for general domestic use due to its sharp, knife-like design and was never a big hit. Clerks in many grocery stores would often open cans for customers to take home.

The 1865 “Bull’s head” was a similar device to Yeates can opener, but it had an artistic design making it the first to attempt to be attractive and functional for home use. The opener got its name when it was supplied with “Bully beef” cans and had a bull-head design produced until 1930. There was also a popular fish-head model.


As can walls became thinner, inventors could develop new solutions to quickly get to the food inside. One of these was the twist-key patented in 1866. Special cans had a tab on a pre-scored strip attached to the key. The user would then roll the key to peel the strip and open the can. This can opener was often used on rectangular meat and fish cans and can still be found today.

Rotating Wheel Can Openers

In 1870, William Lyman patented the first rotating wheel opener. This wasn’t incredibly successful as it was pretty complicated to use. It was necessary to pierce the can in the centre and then adjust the tool to fit the diameter of the can before fixing it in place with a wingnut.

Edwin Anderson improved the rotating wheel design in 1920 when he patented a design that had pivoting handles. The handles allowed it to hold the can in one hand while turning the cutting wheel with the other. While it has been improved upon, this is the basis for many modern rotary cutters can openers used on steel or aluminium cans.


Finishing Up

Canned food transformed how food could be transported and preserved. However, it needed the can opener to be invented to allow the tin can to become the widely used method of packaging that we know today.

So, when was the can opener invented? While canning was first invented in 1810, it took until 1855 to develop a can opener! By introducing his first design, the inventor Robert Yeates made it easy for anyone to enjoy canned food.

While there have been many designs since then, this original simple lever is still used today as an easy way to open up a tin can.

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