Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Dinner is served!

As Jim mentioned yesterday our excavation into the cellar fill of the Swann House has produced numerous 20th century artifacts. This does not mean that all of these more recent artifacts are particularly dull, and one in particular roused our interest (perhaps because it was easy to identify!). This clunker of a can opener came out of Stratum 2 of Unit 83 in the northeast corner of the cellar hole. In light of this interesting find, I thought it would be suitable to discuss a brief history of the can opener.

The tin can was first patented in 1810 by Peter Durand. This was a major advancement in the world of food preservation. However, due to a lack of foresight, Mr. Durand did not think to invent a device that would open these thick-walled cans. As such, people resorted to using knives, chisels, hammers, and whatever else they could to release a can's contents. Finally, in 1858, Ezra Waterbury of Connecticut put forth a design for the first can opener. His invention was similar to the can opener found on a pocket knife except it was much larger. This cumbersome device was not a household item, but would have been found at the local grocery store where a clerk would open all of your cans after you purchased them. The can opener we are most familiar with, the type with a rolling wheel, was only introduced in 1870, followed by one with a serrated wheel in 1925. A little over 5 years later the electric can opener made its first debut.

So how old is our can opener? Well, first off keep in mind that this is not the typical hand-held device, but would sit on a counter top and be used to punch holes in either side of a can to pour out its contents (as opposed to removing the lid). It certainly is not very old, and likely dates to somewhere in the mid-20th even still has rubber feet on the bottom!

Now next time you go to prepare some soup for dinner you can thank the likes of Pete Durand and Ezra Waterbury! For tomorrow's blog we will be sure post some pictures of the burned oyster shell that Jim mentioned a couple days ago.


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