The First Beer Cans

Krueger’s – The first canned beer

The technology for canning beer existed long before it actually occurred. Some evidence of experimentation dates back to the late 1910’s. Prohibition (1919-1933) put those efforts on hold. Once Prohibition for beer was repealed in April of 1933, American Can Company renewed its efforts to entice brewers to can their product. The first fish to take the bait was not the biggest. In fact it was a moderately sized brewer in Newark, New Jersey, the Gottfried Kreuger Brewing Company. The first known production run was in late 1933. The trial run is believed to have been 2000 cans. The cans were never sold. The design was very similar to later Krueger cans but is distinguished by different wording on the can. The trial cans were labeled “Krueger’s Special Beer”. Later can designs changed to Krueger’s Finest Beer and later, Krueger Finest Beer. The big moment arrived after a favorable initial test. G. Krueger Brewing must have felt it was a huge gamble to be first out with canned beer. It was too big a gamble to release the product in their regional market. Instead, a test market in Richmond, Virginia was established. On January 24, 1935, canned beer went on sale. Two brands were sold, Krueger’s Finest Beer and Krueger’s Cream Ale.  

Krueger's cans from 1935. The two inside cans are non-tax cans. The tax statement on the two outside cans is at the very bottom of the cans. You can s read a similar story about Krueger at the BCCA website. Click The can pictured at that site is a digitally constructed image of the "Special" beer test can.

Now, how do you open the cans? Food had been available in “tin cans” for several decades and the traditional method of opening a food can involved removing the whole lid. This method was not necessary for liquid, nor would it be convenient outside of a kitchen where can openers were likely to be found. American Can solved this problem by distributing a beer can opener designed to punch a hole in the lid. For several years, cans showed a picture of an opener on the side panel and instructions on how to use it. Can collectors call these cans “instructionals” or "OI cans". By 1950 these opening instructions had all but disappeared from beer cans. Cans made until World War II were made from much heavier steel than later cans. Openers from this era were longer and stronger in order to pierce the lid easier.  

Krueger OI Cans.

If bare steel were used hold beer, the beer would react with the steel and quickly spoil. Cans had to have an inner lining to prevent spoilage. American Can called this lining Keglined. Keglined is often explained on early cans. The keglined symbol continued to appear on some cans into the 1960’s.  

Below is Marc Tracy's guide to the sequence of the 5 "baldie" cans.

I think the sequence of issue of the baldies is pretty obvious just by looking at the front of the cans, though the backs do add some nice supporting evidence. Of course, this sequencing can't be proven. The evidence is almost entirely circumstantial, but is quite compelling in my opinion. The information that will be used to build the case is:
    -The presence and/or location of the IRTP statement
    -The Trade Mark information beneath "Keglined" on the             left side panel of each can
    -The presence of either the NYSABC License number or         the NY Distributor address up the left side of the seam
    -The presence of either "Contents 12 Fl. Oz." or "12 Fl.             Oz. Same As Bottle" top face
    -Enamel vs. metallic paint
 All five variations are "Patent Pending" and share a common text panel to the right of the seam. I believe the sequence of issue is as follows:
1. USBC 90-01
2. USBC 90-04
3. Un-pictured
4. USBC 90-03
5. USBC 90-02
And here is why:
1. Non-IRTP.
2. The only difference between this can and (1) is the addition of the IRTP statement bottom face. Both are enamel paint, "Keglined Trade Mark ACCO", "Contents 12 Fl. Oz.", and have the NYSABCB License number.
3. This is a metallic can with the same information on the face as (2) has. Besides the metallic paint, the only difference on this can is that the NYSABCB License number is replaced by the NY Distributor address. The NY Distributor address continues on Krueger cans into the 1940's, and so does the metallic paint scheme.
4. This can has "Keglined Registered Trade Mark American Can Co." in place of the "Keglined Trade Mark ACCO" on prior versions., and "12 Fl. Oz. Same As Bottle" top face in place of "Contents 12 Fl. Oz." The "12 Fl. Oz. Same As Bottle" statement also continues on Krueger cans into the 1940's. 
5. This can has "Keglined Trade Mark Reg. U.S. Pat. Off. American Can Co." in place of "Keglined Registered Trade Mark American Can Co.". "In Keglined Cans" is added to the face, and IRTP moves to the back of the can, where it remains as long as Krueger comes in red cans. This can also matches the Kent Ale in all respects. This last fact indicates that all five variations of baldie were produced before 1935 ended, as Kent Ale in cans was being advertised by October of 1935.
Perhaps the best way to convince one's self of the validity is to attempt to build an argument for any other possible sequencing of the cans. I simply can't believe they were produced in any other order. NY State requirements would have dictated the change from NYSABC License number to the NY Distributor address. Besides the first three Krueger's cans, only Pabst seems to have made cans old enough to bear "Keglined Trade Mark ACCO".


Cans without tax statements, 1935

All canned and bottled beer was required to contain a tax statement on the container. Two statements were used, “Internal Revenue Tax Paid” and “Tax Paid at the Rate Prescribed by Internal Revenue”. These cans are often referred to as IRTP cans. It has been reported in various publications that the tax statement law went into effect on June 1, 1935 (2 other dates in June and July have also been reported). This is now being challenged by several people. The theory is that tax statements were required beginning in 1933 with the repeal of prohibition. Beer bottle labels tend to confirm this. The lack of tax statements on cans is being attributed to an oversight or misunderstanding of the laws by the breweries and can companies. Some canned beer from Northampton Brewing (Tru Blu Ale) and G Heileman (5 variations of Old Style Lager low profile cones) also do not have tax statements. The following is a list of breweries and dates they are believed to have obtained canning equipment.

Krueger                                   1934
Pabst                                        5-23-35
Northampton                            6-11-35 
Scheidt                                     6-27-35
Ballatine                                    7-25-35
Red Top                                   8-08-35
Globe                                        8-12-35
Heileman                                   8-13-35
Schlitz                                        8-27-35

I have checked the accuracy of this story with a few beer historians and can collectors. If you have any further information or corrections, I would be pleased to hear from you.




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