Canning Food is One Thing; Getting It Out Is Another Matter


We take food-containing cans for granted these days. It wasn’t always thus.

The so-called ‘tin can’, or ‘tin’ in Britain-influenced parts of the world – so named because the original ones, created in the 1840’s, originally were an amalgam of wrought iron and tin, the latter being the part exposed to the food. In the early years, such cans were sealed with a tin-lead alloy, which could cause food poisoning. Thus, the long-time warning to not store foods in cans once they been opened.

As the science of making cans evolved, so did the science of opening them. In the beginning, a hammer and a chisel were the manufacturer-recommended approach.

Eventually (!), someone got the bright idea that there had to be a better way for accessing the contents of these storage vessels.

Smithsonian Magazine takes up the story:

How did the first tin cans get opened? A chisel and a hammer, writes Kaleigh Rogers for Motherboard. Given that the first can opener famously wasn’t invented for about fifty years after cans went into production, people must have gotten good at the method. But there are reasons the can opener took a while to show up.

  • Our story starts in 1795, when Napoleon Bonaparte offered a significant prize “for anyone who invented a preservation method that would allow his army’s food to remain unspoiled during its long journey to the troops’ stomachs,” writes Today I Found Out. (In France at the time, it was common to offer financial prizes to encourage scientific innovation–like the one that led to the first true-blue paint.) A scientist named Nicolas Appert cleaned up on the prize in the early 1800s, but his process used glass jars with lids rather than tin cans.

    Later that year,” writes Today I Found Out, “an inventor, Peter Durand, received a patent from King George III for the world’s first can made of iron and tin.” But early cans were more of a niche item: they were produced at a rate of about six per hour, rising to sixty per hour in the 1840s. As they began to penetrate the regular market, can openers finally started to look like a good idea.

    But the first cans were just too thick to be opened in that fashion. They were made of wrought iron (like fences) and lined with tin, writes Connecticut History, and they could be as thick as 3/16 of an inch. A hammer and chisel wasn’t just the informal method of opening these cans–it was the manufacturer’s suggested method.

The first can opener was actually an American invention, patented by Ezra J. Warner on January 5, 1858. At this time, writes Connecticut History, “iron cans were just starting to be replaced by thinner steel cans.”

Warner’s can opener was a blade that cut into the can lid with a guard to prevent it from puncturing the can. A user sort of sawed their way around the can’s edge, leaving a jagged rim of raw metal as they went. “Though never a big hit with the public, Warner’s can opener served the U.S. Army during the Civil War and found a home in many grocery stores,” writes Connecticut History, “where clerks would open cans for customers to take home.”

Attempts at improvement followed, and by 1870, the basis of the modern can opener had been invented. William Lyman’s patent was the first to use a rotary cutter to cut around the can, although in other aspects it doesn’t look like the modern one. “The classic toothed-wheel crank design” that we know and use today came around in the 1920s, writes Rogers. That invention, by Charles Arthur Bunker, remains the can opener standard to this day.

Please check out our other blog, Food Trade Trends.



World’s Longest Suspension Bridge Spans a Swiss Alpine Ravine


If you have any hesitations about exploring high places, Switzerland’s new 1,620 foot/494 meters long suspension bridge – unofficially the world’s longest bridge of its type – will not make it onto your bucket list. Hanging 278 feet (85 meters) over the Grabengufer ravine near Zermatt, the bridge connects that popular hiking destination and another – Grachen – a two-day hike the normal way.

Forget easing a fear of high places by walking arm-in-arm with a companion: This steel bridge, built in only ten weeks, measures only 25.6 inches (0.65 m) wide – just wide enough for one person, single-file.

Guinness has not yet recognized this recently-opened bridge as holder of the world’s longest record. That title presently resides with Japan’s Kokonoe Yuma Bridge, which is a mere 390m (1279.5 ft) long.

The BBC reported that the new Swiss bridge (video) replaces one damaged by rock falls.

USA Today says the local tourist authority advises that the bridge, part of a two-day hiking trip, is “for hikers with no fear of heights.” says that hikers will definitely want to visit the bridge, as it also completes part of the Europaweg trail, a route that takes travelers through some of the best and highest peaks in Switzerland — including the Matterhorn.

Please check out Doug Harris’s other blog,

Record Cuke Measures 43 Inches (1.09m) Long


Photo: Ric Dugan

The world’s longest-ever cuke was grown – to 43 inches (1.09m) – this year in Maryland from seeds purchased at a Home Depot store. Depot, indeed: The grower, Butch Taulton, a 72-year-old retired road construction worker and on-going goat-raiser, told, a produce industry report, that there’s no way he could consume all of this monster – which grew to a significantly greater size than the seed packet said it would.

“I just kept watering it and it kept growing,” Taulton told the World Record Academy, which earlier this year awarded him the ‘world’s largest’ title held since 2011 by Ian Neales, of Wales, whose trophy measured 42.1 inches.

“The packet of seeds from Home Depot said they would grow between 32 to 36 inches long—they weren’t supposed to get this big,” Taulton said.

In case you’re wondering, the heaviest-ever cuke weighed in, according to Guinness, at 23 pounds 7 ounces (12.9kg). It was recorded by the record monitors in September, 2015.

Blogger was Among Last Alone with Ali Before His 1st Title Fight With Liston


Ali vs Liston

In February, 1964, eleven days before a brash young boxer from Louisville KY fought to – and succeeded in becoming – the heavyweight champion of the world, another young man, born 364 days after Cassius Clay, was working an overnight shift at an answering service in New York City. When calls died down, he picked up a newspaper. In one, he saw a short ‘gossip’ item mentioning that Cassius Clay was visiting New York and was staying at the Americana Hotel on 7th Avenue.

The latter young man, an aspiring journalist, had ‘almost’ met Clay some time earlier when he visited the Louisville Times/Courier Journal for a promotional phone interview with Archie Moore – once Clay’s trainer, soon to be his in-the-ring competitor.

On a whim, at around 8 a.m. – near the end of his shift – he called the Americana, and asked to be put through to Clay’s room. He was.

He told Clay that we’d been pretty much in the same place back at the newspaper’s office when he was doing than promotional bit. Clay, who’s long been known – particularly during the decades he was known as Muhammad Ali – as one who’s always up for talking to people – invited the young man to join him for breakfast in his hotel suite.

I did so – and spent nearly 2.5 of the most incredible hours of my life sitting side by side with a man who would, very shortly, become amazingly famous, very wealthy and, more important, be recognized as one of the most important sportsmen of his – or any – generation.

Pre-fight security was nothing then like it would be for all his later battles. Still, my ability to even reach him by phone, never mind getting a private invitation to his suite less than two weeks before he would start to become the most famous person in the world, was pretty amazing. And it is more than likely that I was the very last person beyond his own retinue to spend private time with him before that game-changing fight.

When I met him, Cassius Clay was among the nicest, gentlest-speaking, open-hearted people I’d ever met. He’d grown up in a ‘Jim Crow’ environment where, as one person put it on a website about him, there were “two Louisvilles – the White and the Black one.”  And seldom if ever did the two cross the paths.

We were, for most of the time we were together, alone – one on one. His brother Rudy popped in once, and one of his friends did, too. But other than that, it was just me, with a kid hardly like me, because he about to become heavyweight champion of the world, chatting over pastry and coffee like old friends.

Some of the things he said to me were surprising, almost alien, in that day and age. I had little

understanding of the ‘issues’ that been and continue to be affecting African Americans. But  he was not only aware of those issues – as any Black man then would have been – he also was an advocate for change. More so than any other sports figure of the time was.

He talked to me about ‘the blacker the berry the sweeter the fruit,’ and similar sentiments he’d espouse, a few months later, when he cast off his ‘slave name’ and became, as he remained until his death earlier this month, the Muslim known as Muhammad Ali.

I remember him as, above all, a cool guy to hang out with.

His bluster, his public persona,  his silly but truth-telling poems were all part of the ‘game’ he had to play to differentiate himself from all other fighters – particularly black ones, who were expected to walk softly and not carry any kind of stick.

We all know what happened to Clay, nee Ali, who is the only man to win a boxing world champion three times, whose defiance of the draft cost him one of those titles and four years when he should have entertaining boxing fans as he did before and for many years thereafter.

But what happened to his young visitor after that February morning? Eventually, not only did he become a journalist, serving as editor of more than two publications in the U.S. and as many others in the U.K., he also took his show on the road, reporting from more than thirteen countries over the course of the next 45 years.

And now, though semi-retired, he writes regularly for two weekly newspapers in Central Virginia and produces the blogs and


Main Entrance, Cave Hill Cemetery in Louisville KY

Muhammad Ali was buried Friday, June 10, in Louisville’s Cave Hill Cemetery, where a few of my ancestors have been ‘resting’ more than 100 years. (Col. Harlan Sanders, of KFC fame, also is interred there.)