The Evolution of Canned Food and Drink in 38 Pictures

By Attila Nagy on at

Canned foods made their debut on store shelves in the 19th century, and they’ve only become more common ever since. From your local deli to supermarkets, you can find pretty much anything — from tuna to pineapple — in canned form. But how did we get here? The history of canned food is more intricate than you’d think, and includes new inventions and changes in method and design that bring us to the canned goods we eat today.

Canned food has its origins in the Napoleonic wars, where the French government recognised that finding a way to preserve food for their soldiers would be incredibly useful in the field. Rudimentary processes were put into place before the end of the war.

As the practice took off in the coming century, the canning process became a major innovation in the industrialising world. Food could be preserved for years, by preventing bacteria from proliferating, increasing food safety and availability.

Women filling early hole-in-top cans at Richardson & Robbins Cannery. Founded in 1856, R&R was the first cannery in the state of Delaware, and a pioneer in the American canning industry.

 

 

The Evolution of Canned Food and Drink In 38 Pictures
Image: Library of Congress

 

 


Men making cans for meat at Richardson & Robbins.

 

 

The Evolution of Canned Food and Drink In 38 Pictures
Image: Library of Congress

 

 


Can labelling at Richardson & Robbins.

 

 

The Evolution of Canned Food and Drink In 38 Pictures
Image: Library of Congress

 

 


1891: Tinned or jarred products used for cooking, from Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management.

 

 

The Evolution of Canned Food and Drink In 38 Pictures
Image: Hulton Archive/Getty Images

 

 


1909: A canning machine at the J. S. Farrand Packing Co., Baltimore, Maryland.

 

 

The Evolution of Canned Food and Drink In 38 Pictures
Image: Lewis Wickes Hine/Library of Congress

 

 


1910-1920: Community cannery, Asheville, N.C.

 

 

The Evolution of Canned Food and Drink In 38 Pictures
Image: Library of Congress

 

 


1912: A tin can making machine in operation at the Machinery Exhibition, Olympia, London.

 

 

The Evolution of Canned Food and Drink In 38 Pictures
Photo: Topical Press Agency/Getty Images

 

 


1920: Discharged Sailors, Soldiers & Airmen’s store with its windows full of tinned food.

 

 

The Evolution of Canned Food and Drink In 38 Pictures
Photo: V. M. Palmer/Topical Press Agency/Getty Images

 

 


1925: A woman with her ‘Home Canner’ for preserving fruit.

 

 

The Evolution of Canned Food and Drink In 38 Pictures
Photo: Topical Press Agency/Getty Images

 

 


1928: River-bank picnic.

 

 

The Evolution of Canned Food and Drink In 38 Pictures
Photo: Fox Photos/Getty Images

 

 


1930: Factory workers prepare peaches for canning at a Del Monte canning factory in the USA.

 

 

The Evolution of Canned Food and Drink In 38 Pictures
Photo: Topical Press Agency/Getty Images

 

 


1930: Canned goods on the shelves of a grocer.

 

 

The Evolution of Canned Food and Drink In 38 Pictures
Photo: Keystone View/FPG/Getty Images

 

 


1934: Canning beans at Wisbech, Cambridgeshire.

 

 

The Evolution of Canned Food and Drink In 38 Pictures
Photo: Fox Photos/Getty Images

 

 


1936: Canning plums at a factory in Faversham.

 

 

The Evolution of Canned Food and Drink In 38 Pictures
Photo: Ward/Fox Photos/Getty Images

 

 


1937: Empty cans are filled with peas and lids placed on them. Canning factory, Sun Prairie, Wisconsin

 

 

The Evolution of Canned Food and Drink In 38 Pictures
Photo: Russel Lee/Library of Congress

 

 


1937: A factory worker supervising the production of metal food cans.

 

 

The Evolution of Canned Food and Drink In 38 Pictures
Photo: Fox Photos/Getty Images

 

 


1937: A new innovation – canned beer – is rapidly becoming very popular.

 

 

The Evolution of Canned Food and Drink In 38 Pictures
Photo: Fox Photos/Getty Images

 

 


1937: A canned beer machine being tested out in London.

 

 

The Evolution of Canned Food and Drink In 38 Pictures
Photo: Harry Todd/Fox Photos/Getty Images

 

 


1939: A firm in Reading, England, is the first to fall in line with the British government’s plans for food storage by producing an emergency bread. The bread is baked in hermetically sealed tins and is claimed to be edible for 10 years.

 

 

The Evolution of Canned Food and Drink In 38 Pictures
Photo: AP

 

 


1939: Canning machine. Grapefruit juice cannery, Weslaco, Texas.

 

 

The Evolution of Canned Food and Drink In 38 Pictures
Photo: Russel Lee/Library of Congress

 

 


1940: Workers in the labelling and packing section of a tinned salmon production line in a Vancouver factory.

 

 

The Evolution of Canned Food and Drink In 38 Pictures
Photo: Keystone/Getty Images

 

 


1940: A volunteer displays the contents of a Red Cross Christmas package for British prisoners of war in German camps.

 

 

The Evolution of Canned Food and Drink In 38 Pictures
Photo: Fox Photos/Getty Images

 

 


1944: Dr. William Clayton, adviser on canning to the Ministry of Food, explains the simple fuse in the lid of the self-heating can. The soup was hot in this can for four minutes.

 

 

The Evolution of Canned Food and Drink In 38 Pictures
Photo: AP

 

 


1955: Packers at a fruit factory inspect pineapple slices and place them in appropriate cans.

 

 

The Evolution of Canned Food and Drink In 38 Pictures
Photo: Three Lions/Getty Images

 

 


1955: Canning peanut oil at Central Hershey, Cuba.

 

 

The Evolution of Canned Food and Drink In 38 Pictures
Photo: Three Lions/Getty Images

 

 


1955: Tins of strange food including octopus on skewers, lava worms, and fried silkworms.

 

 

The Evolution of Canned Food and Drink In 38 Pictures
Photo: George Heyer/Three Lions/Getty Images

 

 


1956: A tin of Unox pork luncheon meat.

 

 

The Evolution of Canned Food and Drink In 38 Pictures
Photo: Chaloner Woods/Getty Images

 

 


1960: British cookery writer and television chef Fanny Cradock inspects some tinned Norwegian pate at the First National Delicatessen Exhibition in Park Lane House, London.

 

 

The Evolution of Canned Food and Drink In 38 Pictures
Photo: J. Wilds/Keystone/Getty Images

 

 


1962: A fine selection of foods in a Harrods hamper including dates, pickles, and plum pudding.

 

 

The Evolution of Canned Food and Drink In 38 Pictures
Photo: Chaloner Woods/Getty Images

 

 


1962: Russian caviar from Astrakhan.

 

 

The Evolution of Canned Food and Drink In 38 Pictures
Photo: Chaloner Woods/Getty Images

 

 


1963: Easy to open cola can. The 8-oz can, manufactured by the Reynolds Metals Company, marked the first time that aluminium cans were used in soda manufacturing.

 

 

The Evolution of Canned Food and Drink In 38 Pictures
Photo: Hulton Archive/Getty Images

 

 


1976: Pumpernickel, the famous German black bread, is an export hit, and many boxes of it go to the United States. At the assembly line of a bakery plant in Guetersloh, West Germany, Pumpernickel is tinned and readied for the transport over the ocean.

 

 

The Evolution of Canned Food and Drink In 38 Pictures
Photo: Ducklau/AP

 

 


1981: Hungarian space food developed for cosmonaut Bertalan Farkas, participating in the Intercosmos program.

 

 

The Evolution of Canned Food and Drink In 38 Pictures
Photo: Attila Nagy/Gizmodo

 

 


2003: Cans of SPAM on display at the Waikiki SPAM JAM Festival in Honolulu, Hawaii. The Waikiki SPAM JAM is a celebration of one of Hawaii’s favorite foods.

 

 

The Evolution of Canned Food and Drink In 38 Pictures
Photo: Phil Mislinski/Getty Images

 

 


2005: Packers fills sardine cans at the Stinson Seafood plant, the nation’s last sardine cannery, in Gouldsboro, Maine.

 

 

The Evolution of Canned Food and Drink In 38 Pictures
Photo: Robert F. Bukaty/AP

 

 


2006: A canned food menu for the International Space Station, developed to meet the difficult requirements of dining in space, including zero bacteria.

 

 

The Evolution of Canned Food and Drink In 38 Pictures
Photo: Remy Gabalda/AP

 

 


2014: Canned processed pumpkins move along a conveyor belt in the case and label area of the Libby’s pumpkin cannery in Morton, Ill.

 

 

The Evolution of Canned Food and Drink In 38 Pictures
Photo: Seth Perlman/AP

 

 

2015: With the popularity in craft beer spiking, breweries have faced an unexpected problem: a shortage in 16 ounce cans.

 

 

The Evolution of Canned Food and Drink In 38 Pictures
Photo: Leungchopan / Shuttershock