Here is a list of important dates in the history of our favorite beer package!
1909: A brewer in Montana approaches American Can Company about canning beer, but it is not feasible at this time.
1917: As part of the war effort for World War One, use of grains in brewing is severally restricted in order to save the grain for food. Many states begin statewide Prohibition during the war.
1919: Woodrow Wilson vetoes the Volstead Act (which enforces national Prohibition). His veto is over-ridden. The Volstead Act defines an alcoholic beverage as one containing 1/2 of 1 percent of alcohol, which eliminates even light beers and wines.
1920: National Prohibition Begins.
1928 (apx): Anheuser-Busch, Schlitz, and Pabst experiment with canning near beer.
1933 (April 7): Prohibition law modified to allow for light beer (3.2%) while states consider the 21st Amendment which repeals the 18th Amendment, thereby officially ending Prohibition.
1933 (November): Krueger's tests 2,000 cans of 3.2% beer and gets a positive reaction.
1933 (December 5): The 21st Amendment to the US Constitution is ratified when Utah becomes the 36th state to approve it. Prohibition officially ends.
"Liberty's Torch is Light Once More."
1935 (January): the first beer cans, flat tops filled with Krueger's Ale and Krueger's Beer, are sold in Richmond, Virginia. Canned beer is an immediate success!
Krueger's Ale can from American Can Company advertisement, 1935.
1935 (July): Tru-Blue Beer and Ale appears in cans made by National Can Company, the second canning company to enter the market.
1935 (August): The first major brewer to can beer is Pabst, but they sell "Export" beer and not "Pabst Blue Ribbon" at first.
Early Pabst can.
1935 (September): Schlitz appears in the first conetop can made by Continental Can Company, the third can company to enter the fray.
1935 (October, apx): Heekin Can Company of Cincinnati Ohio convinces the local Burger Brewing to try a 252 ounce (1/16 bbl) can. The experiment is short-lived and only two examples of the can survive.
1935 (November): First non-US brewers use cans, Felinfoel and Tennents appear in the UK in conetops.
1936: First 32 ounce quart beer cans.
1936 (September): Continental's conetops switch from flat bottom to concave bottom.
1937: Crown Cork and Seal introduce "J" Spout cone top cans. CC&S is the 4th can company to compete, not counting Heekin's aborted attempt.
1938: Birth of the six pack, probably by Ballantine. Larger packages are deemed to be too heavy for the average housewife buying beer at the grocery store and Coca-Cola was already being sold in units of six. Some Canadian brands may have been sold in 6-packs of bottles already by this time as well.
1939: The last year in which draught beer outsold packaged beer (cans and bottles). After 1939 most beer was sold in bottles and cans, a large part intended for home consumption.
1940: Crowntainer introduced by Crown Cork and Seal replacing the "J" Spout. The crowntainer is the first 2-piece (as opposed to 3 piece) can.
1942 (May 31): Canning of beer for civilian use ends. Breweries may use existing stocks of cans.
1944: Canning of beer in olive drab cans for military use begins: 35 larger breweries spread around the country were chosen to can beer for the military.
Schaefer Olive Drab can.
1947: Canning beer for civilian sales resumes.
March 1950: Brewers no longer have to put the "Internal Revenue Tax Paid" (IRTP) statement on cans. I am still working on researching the ins and outs of beer taxation in this period. In the meantime, my IRTP Page has the basics.
1954 (June): Schlitz introduces 16 ounce flat top can.
16 ounce Schlitz flat top.
1958: First aluminum can in US, 11 ounce Primo Beer from Hawaii.
1959 (October): Coors starts using 7 ounce all aluminum cans.
Coors 7 ounce aluminum can.
1960: Last conetop cans filled for Rice Lake Brewing Company.
1960: Schlitz introduces aluminum top on steel cans, the "sofTop" (sic) can.
1962 (March): Iron City beer tests the first pop top (pull tab) cans in Virginia.
1963 (March): Schlitz starts using pop top cans.
1965: Ring top cans appear.
1969: Canned beer outsells bottled beer for the first time.
1970: Beer Can Collectors of America (BCCA) founded in St. Louis.
BCCA logo (original).
1974: Push button cans introduced. They did not last long more than a couple of years due to customer difficulties in pressing down the little buttons to open the cans.
1975: Falls City Brewing, Louisville, introduces "StaTab" cans.
1975 (Summer): The college kid who lived behind my folk's house in West Carrollton,Ohio has a party and I find a 25 ounce Foster's Lager can on the back lawn the next day. My beer can collection begins!
1978: First UPC symbol appears on cans.
Sources Used for this page.
Andrews, Dan "Tin Soldiers" Beer Cans and Brewery Collectibles (Feb-March 1995) 4-5, 8.
Beer Can Collectors of America. United States Beer Cans. (Beer Can Collectors of America: Fenton, Mo) 6-15.
"Birth of the Beer Can" Beer Can Collectors New Report. Special 50th Anniversary. Edition (1985) 3-11
Garard, Michael. Beer Cans Monthly (February 1979) "When Beer Cans Went to War" 26-29
Myers, Robert. "Some Thoughts...On the Beer Can's First 35 Years" (self published, 1970).