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Chicagoland brews up canned beer

Krueger's Finest Beer, 1935

Nobody ever drank an ice-cold can of beer until 1935.

And not just because of the Prohibition, either. Beer containing 3.2 percent alcohol became legal again on Dec. 5, 1933, but you couldn’t get canned beer then for the simple reason that no one had thought of putting beer in cans.

Chicagoland’s American Can Co. developed the innovative containers in the early 1930s, as Prohibition drew to its finish. The flat-topped cylinders had an interior coating — the company called them “keg-lined” — which kept the beer from reacting with the tin can.

A conglomerate of some 60 tin-can manufacturers and 123 factories, the American Can Co. formed in 1901. Its 18-acre headquarters facility at the site of Norton Can Works in Maywood employed thousands until 1972.

Charles Stollberg of American Can patented a design for a can that could stand the pressures of beer in 1927. Canco’s first customer for its new beer packaging, the Gottfried Krueger Brewing Company of Newark, N.J., produced the first canned beer on Jan. 24, 1935.

Though lighter, more stackable and cheaper to ship than bottles the new beer cans were sturdy, weighing almost 4 ounces empty. How were consumers to open them?

In April 1935, American Can inventors Dewitt F. Sampson of Elmhurst and John Hothersall received a patent on the pointed opener for beer cans that would come to be called a “church key.” Brewing companies depicted opening instructions on cans until the 1940s, and package stores gave away the “Quick and Easy” openers with cases of beer up until the pull-tab came in to vogue.

 

U.S. patent 1996550: 'Container opener'

U.S. patent 1,996,550: 'Container opener'