Birth of canned beer: Jan. 24, 1935

A new era in beer drinking begins in America when the Gottfried Krueger Brewing Company puts 2,000 cans of its beer on sale in Richmond, Virginia.  It’s the first time canned beer is available to the public and it’s an instant success.  According to a survey taken soon thereafter, more than 90 percent of Krueger beer drinkers in the Richmond market say they like the idea.

In truth, Krueger executives had been dubious about how well beer in cans would work. But the American Can Company convinced them that it had come up with a special coating that would keep beer from chemically reacting with the tin inside the can. It helped  that American Can agreed to install the canning equipment for free.

The can company had been working on putting beer in a can since 1909. But the containers couldn’t withstand the pressure from carbonation — up to 80 pounds per square inch — and exploded. Then Prohibition went into effect  in 1920 and the project was put on hold.

But when the experiment was revived almost 20 years later, it was a very different story. Within three months, over 80 percent of distributors in the U.S. were handling Krueger's canned beer, and Krueger's was eating into the market share of the "big three" national brewers--Anheuser-Busch, Pabst and Schlitz. The big beer companies got the message and followed suit. By the end of that first year, more than 200 million cans of beer had been sold.

And beer in cans had some clear advantages. People who bought canned beer didn’t have to pay a deposit while those who purchased beer in bottles did. Cans were also easier to stack, more durable and took less time to chill. Some breweries tried out cans with conical rather than flat tops, but they didn’t stack and ship as easily.

As it turned out, cans were actually better for the taste of beer than bottles. Beer’s main enemies are light, oxygen and heat. A can’s complete opacity blocks out the light that can make a beer taste “skunked.”

Their popularity grew during the 1930’s, then took off during World War II, when U.S. brewers shipped millions of cans of beer to soldiers overseas. After the war, national brewing companies began to take advantage of the mass distribution that cans made possible, and were able to control their costs much better than the local breweries which  had  always dominated the beer business.

Today, canned beer accounts for approximately half of the $20 billion generated in beer sales in the U.S. every year.