Napoleon Bonaparte could be said to be the forerunner in the preservation of food. He had a problem. Namely, how to feed his troops adequately on the battlefield. To specify, he instituted a competition with a prize of 12,000 francs for the first person to find a solution. A French cook, Nicolas Appert, came up with an idea. That is, to heat the food, particularly meat. Then to put it into glass containers, sealing them with cork and sealing wax. Thus, in 1809, Appert won the prize for having thought up one of the most important inventions in history.
Pasteur and pasteurization
It was not until fifty years later that Louis Pasteur invented the process of pasteurization. That is, sterilizing the food by cooling it quickly before sealing the container to make it safe. However, Frenchman Phillippe de Girard is said to have created the tin canning process. The idea passed to British Peter Durand who patented Girard’s idea in 1810 but using a can made of tin. Durand then sold his patent to two Englishmen, Donkin and Hall. They set up the world’s first canning factory in London and began producing tin canned goods for the Royal Navy. In a few years, tins were being used for multiple purposes. Including the canning of gunpowder, seeds and turpentine.
The Arctic Expedition
Early cans were sealed with a tin-lead alloy. In 1845 Sir John Franklin led an Arctic Expedition to seek the Northwest Passage. This would be an important trading shortcut between Europe and Asia. However, the expedition disappeared, frozen into the ice. It was not until 2016 that the wreck of the ship was located. Meanwhile, Sir John and his crew suffered from severe lead poisoning. This was thought to be caused by eating from tins. In point of fact, post mortems on the frozen bodies of three men of the crew buried on one of the islands confirmed this. Moreover, they were suffering from scurvy and starvation. In addition, there were sinister signs of cannibalism.
Tin, a natural ore
Tin is a natural ore. In Cornwall in the UK it had been mined for centuries. It is very easy to work and gave the name to ‘tinkers,’ wandering tradesmen who made and sold many tin domestic utensils. These included tin boxes with lids to keep the contents dry. Unfortunately there was a collapse in the price of tin, leading to the closing of the last mine in the UK in 1998.
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The twentieth century
The year 1901 led to the founding of the American Can Company which produced ninety percent of tin cans in the US. By the mid twentieth century all types of tins were produced. Thereafter followed the introduction of a combination of tin and steel. Thus eliminating the use of lead altogether. The first heavy cans were difficult to open without the aid of a knife or other implement. Subsequently, with the use of thinner metal, can openers appeared, invented by Englishman Robert Yeates in 1855. Then followed pull tabs, a vast improvement. Today over 200 billion tins are produced worldwide each year. Many of these are decorated with advertisements for their contents. For instance, biscuits, tea, sweets, cleaning materials and food in general. Not to mention tobacco tins and those for gramophone needles.
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There is, indeed, a vast range of tins available to the collector. In particular, those produced between the end of the nineteenth century up to the 1930s. Many varieties exist, such as those in the shape of boats, books and carriages. Highly sought after are novelty tins such as one in the shape of an airplane. Some very rare tins can reach an asking price of several hundred dollars.