Tin Packages

If tinplate had not existed, Nicolás Appert’s discoveries about food preservation would hardly have had a practical application in a generalized way in the industrialized world of the mid-nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. But it was there already ready to join its development to the metallic container.

The primitive man knew and used the tin before the iron, the reason may be the lower temperatures that the tin needs to melt, which facilitated its obtaining. Tinned objects are known with antiquity thousands of years before Christ and in the Bible this metal is mentioned. The ancient world considered ornaments and jewelery iron objects tinned by immersion.

The origins of tinplate date back to the late Middle Ages. There is evidence that in the year 1240 in Bohemia (Germany) and was used to make utensils, which were highly appreciated for their anti-corrosive properties. But we must wait until the fourteenth century, to begin the evolution of the product, to reach the way it is known in our days. In this century, real tin was made, by immersing iron plates in molten tin.

In the region of Dresden and in the seventeenth century, an important industry based on tinning was developed, dedicated mainly to export. Among the countries receiving this tin plate was England, which was curiously where tin was obtained.

Its industrial manufacture began in England (south Wales) at the beginning of the 18th century. At that time, the main contributions were the mechanical rolling of the steel and its pickling. Progressively, this technology spread throughout Europe and the New World. The manufacturing process consisted of the immersion of steel sheets in molten tin baths and received the name of tin plate “coke” or “hot dip”. This technique was improved by the German M. Schlöter at the beginning of the 20th century. He devised the deposition of tin on steel using electrolytic baths. This invention soon gave rise to experimental electrolytic tinplate plants in Germany and England, although it did not develop industrially until 1943, the year in which the first electrolytic tinplate plant began to operate in the United States.

The new procedure provided multiple advantages: exact control of the amount of tin deposited, improvement of surface finish, possibility of manufacturing tinplates adapted to the final use, cost reduction, etc.

Then, from the “fifties” until today, this industry has not stopped innovating: Continuous casting lines, continuous annealing, tinplate “double reduced”, TFS (tin-free steel), LTS (steel under coating) etc.etc. They are the jalonen that have allowed the evolution of the industrial sector of metal packaging until the current situation.

Special mention must have other raw materials such as: Aluminum, copper … but it would be too long this story.




From the most remote Prehistory, man knew very well the impossibility of keeping fresh food in good condition for a long time. The Paleolithic hunter had to bite meat if he managed to capture a good piece, because after a few days of hunt it was impossible to swallow it. Also in the Neolithic, when man became sedentary and learned to cultivate the land, he found that cereals were the foods that gave him the highest yield, among other things because of their ease of conservation, on the contrary, most fresh fruits are difficult They stayed well for some time.

It is possible that his experience was teaching him that the presence of liquids in food (blood, juices, etc.), was apparently the decisive factor in shortening his life, cereals and edible seeds showed him that way. Hence, I soon learned to dry fruits (grapes, dates …) and to dry and salt meats and fish (sausages, jerky …).

All cultures developed artisan techniques to maintain some primary foods for a certain time. They used the combination of the appropriate climate (temperature and humidity) and salt as basic elements. It was in the eastern Mediterranean, the origin of so many cultural advances of man, where the first steps in the conservation of food have been detected. If you visit the British Museum in London, you can see original sculptural compositions of small size, made of wood representing factories, with five or six people and the corresponding utensils, which is making bread, beer, drying fish in the sun or preparing salted fish, and which are dated 2500 years before Christ.

Classical amphoras

Also, they soon learned to store certain liquids, mainly wine and beverages obtained by distillation or fermentation, which contain alcohol in their composition. In this, he collaborated in a decisive way the development of the pottery, providing the technique for the manufacture of ceramic pieces. The properly sealed vessels were the essential tools to allow their conservation.

Another option that the man used soon, was the cold as a conservative element. Known is the use of lyophilization by the Incas, three thousand years before Christ, to preserve the potatoes, which they spread on the high peaks, to expose them to the sun during the day and to the freezing cold during the night, avoiding the germination of shoots in the tubers and facilitating the subsequent rehydration. So they made the “chuño”, without knowing that they were using rudimentarily, a drying operation in a frozen state.

Today it is still possible to see in some villages, near high mountains the “snowfields”, wells dug in the ground to store snow, which made it possible to cool drinks and meals, not only as an element to make them more pleasant, but also to keep them more time. The Emperor Charles V, since his retirement from Yuste (Extremadura), so far from the coast – taking into account the means of transport available at that time -, could continue enjoying his fondness for good food, consuming seafood and fresh fish, for this they used snow as a means of maintenance.

In the historical era of Humanity, the advances were added to our days. The Ancient and Middle Ages already made good progress to improve food preservation. Thus the Romans introduced brine and vinegar as preservatives, inventing pickling. Sodium chloride and acetic acid, have been the first food additives preservatives of Humanity, in addition to the benzoic and sorbic acids existing in some spices, such as cinnamon and cloves, which explain Marco Polo’s travels in his search.

Medieval Europe added smoked and with it, another preservative additive, the formic aldehyde, present in wood smoke. He also extended the pig farming and an incipient pork and pork industry was born, and he marketed salted herring, which was transported in wooden barrels. In the high Middle Ages, Northern Europe, which had been producing beer in the houses in an artisanal way, largely abandoned this custom, to create the first industrial beer factories and in this context, they began to manufacture industrially for the first time, the standard varieties of blonde beer and black beer around the year 1400.

The Europe of the Modern Age implements the smoking of herring and salmon on a large scale, as well as the salting of cod. It markets products such as coffee and cocoa, which imports from America, and manufactures chocolate. It consumes large amounts of sugar, whose preservative properties it knows, to produce sweets, jams and jams. The whale fishery is developed to obtain fats and meat, in addition to other products.

In 1764, metal boxes to contain tobacco that “sniffed” the distinguished English began to be used in the United Kingdom. Perhaps they can be considered the first containers of the modern era to contain products.

In the Europe of the Modern Age, the scientific rationalism that is going to flourish in the XIX century and that is going to influence decisively in the advances of the technology is settled, but the production of food continued to concern a great majority of the population, who It was rural and agricultural, or maintained rural habits.



The industry of the manufacture of the metallic container always has been ligature to the one of the packaging. Any new development of one, has influenced the other, so that their stories are united, especially at first. The first has also influenced the growth of other industries, such as steel, tin, equipment, transportation. etc.

Although the packaging of food products easily decomposed, was already practiced before the introduction of metal containers, until they did not enter the scene, there was no vigorous development of the canning sector, evolving the same towards the methods and technologies that Today we know.

The developments began in 1765, when Spallanzani in Italy managed to preserve food, heating hermetically sealed containers containing several products. This discovery had no continuity; it had to wait until 1795. In this year, the Convention (new form of State in France) had just stopped the “Terror”, sending the guillotine to Robespierre and was engaged in wars with half Europe (Holland, Belgium, Italy. ..). This organized a contest, in which it offered 12,000 francs to the one who provided a procedure, who was able to keep perishable food well preserved. The supply needs of its armies (commanded by Italy and Napoleon stood out), were going to propitiate an important discovery. Once again, the disastrous wars would be the generators of great technical improvements for humanity.

Nicolás Appert


Nicolás Appert, a pastry chef from Paris, went to the contest and won, being awarded the prize in 1809. Appert’s method consisted in putting meat, fruit, vegetables and fresh or cooked fish in hermetically sealed bottles, submerging them in boiling water. for a certain time

Its success led to the use of three factors: Proper preparation of the food, have an air-proof container and finally, the heating of the whole during the time and the right temperature. Appert was a methodical person and kept data of the times, temperatures and procedures of the different products with which he worked and then published a book on the subject. The factors used to control the system, even today, are still valid to ensure a good packaging operation. Food preservation as we know it was now underway.




In 1810, Peter Durand in the England of George III, patented the idea of ​​using tin containers to develop the procedure of Nicolás Appert. It presented multiple advantages: Easy heat conduction, lightness, mechanical resistance …. One year later – 1811 – the first commercial packaging operation was registered in the same country, using containers made of tinplate to contain meats and vegetables, intended for the English admiralty. Bryan Donkin and John Jall were the pioneers who assembled the first workshop – in Bermondsey – of canned preserves for this destination. By 1818 the Royal Navy already consumed 24,000 containers per year. It was necessary to wait some years – until 1830 – so that the initial canned foods, appeared in the English stores already of habitual form.

The first commercial uses were to contain cookies and biscuits, initially of naked tin – without decorating -. They spent more than thirty years – specifically in the year 1866 – until the first decorated containers appeared on the market.

Tin of the time

The metal container was introduced in North America in the year 1817, as a means of food preservation. It was the English William Underwood who at this time established the first canning factory in New Orleans. However, the tin boat enjoyed a rather discreet development until the year 1861, when the twenty three northern states of the Union, warred with the eleven Southerners of the Confederation, then it became clear the great utility of this system of conservation .

It is curious that in the beginning of metal packaging, the way to open them was not foreseen. Thus, in the year 1812, British soldiers opened their cans with bayonets and knives, even with a rifle shot if they failed.

Packages of this type, with a capacity of 4 pounds of food, (soups, roast beef, carrots and fish) were used by the British explorer Sir William Perry, on his trip to the North Pole in 1824. Some of them were found in 1938 , that is, 114 years later and its contents were still edible. Surprising to read in them: “Cut around the top with a chisel and a hammer”. And it is still not inventing the can opener. This has a simple explanation: the first tin cans were large and thick walls. Sometimes they weighed more than the food they contained. The can of meat used by Sir William Parry weighed, once empty, about a pound. Only when thinner steel containers with a rim around the top were generalized – in the late 1850s – did the can opener have the potential to be presented as a relatively simple instrument. The case of Sir W. Perry and many others of prolonged storage of canned foods have demonstrated the practicality of metal containers.

The packaging, originally was an agricultural industry. The first packers were also manufacturers of containers, making the same during the winter and filling them in the season of the product collection. As the knowledge of packaging techniques spread, there were emerging workshops and factories in Europe and America, making attempts to can almost all that was edible.

In 1852 RC Appert – nephew of Nicolás Appert – introduces the primitive autoclaves opened in the process of preserves. One of the most important products to be packed was condensed milk. There was an important need for this product, especially where there was no fresh milk. The canning of the same one, that began as of 1856, under a patent of Gail Borden in North America, helped to diminish the rate of infantile mortality that was by then very elevated. Each company, on its own, tried to improve the processes (temperature-time conditions) and they were kept with great secrecy, since they supposed important commercial advantages. At that time, the figure of the master canner, took a great relief and was the key person in the business. Basically this process consisted of introducing a certain amount of time to the “water bath”, (open bath of boiling water at 100 degrees Celsius), the containers conveniently filled and closed. It had serious limitations, since with foods of low acidity (meat and fish), at this temperature it was not possible to kill certain bacteria.

In 1860, Louis Pasteur in France, found that at higher temperatures, it was possible to destroy the bacteria of food decomposition, also allowing to reduce processing times. This led Isaac Salomón in the United States in 1861 to add calcium chloride to the process water, which made it possible to reach up to 115 ºC. in open bathroom. This led to certain problems such as: Increase in burst containers by increasing the internal pressure with temperature (with the consequent danger in the area); lack of control of the parameters during the procedure, since when the water evaporated, the chloride concentration increased and therefore the boiling temperature of the bath, etc. Despite these limitations, this technique was extended among the industries of the time.

A fundamental qualitative leap was the appearance in the market of the “autoclave”. It consisted of a container that closed tightly during the process. His great contribution was to raise the pressure and temperature significantly, but also with the possibility of being regulated at will. The internal pressure of the container and the outside, balanced better. The first autoclaves were developed by AK Shriver of Baltimore (USA) in 1874. This country lived a period of peace and development, once the war of Secession between North and South under the presidency of General Grant, hero of the North Americans ended .

Little by little, many other problems had to be solved, until completely mastering the technique of food packaging, but the road was already marked and in the following years progress was made very quickly. With this, a series of goals were reached, such as:

– Preserve perishable food products

– Pack in times of abundance.

– Properly transport food to distant points

– Have them out of season.

– Facilitate preparation at home

– Economize costs

– Guarantee the quality of the food.




The beginning of the manufacture of containers in industrial form, was the logical consequence that followed the first successful attempts to preserve perishable food products, using different types of containers and with the contribution of heat. Tin packaging, developed by Durand in 1810, showed that it was the best solution – among others – as has already been said before.

The biggest difficulty to save, was in the hermeticity of the container. To ensure the effectiveness of the process, it was necessary to ensure that the air could not enter the interior. This condition was difficult to obtain when the containers were made by hand. The sheets of tin available to make them, were covered with a very thick layer of tin and the steel did not always have a uniformity in its thickness and hardness. Getting hermetically sealed joints with these first materials was really an art.

Let’s go into the detail of how these initial packages were made:


The tinsmiths of the time traced on the metallic sheet, the rectangle corresponding to the development of the cylinder that would conform the body, as well as the circumferences of the covers and cut them with manual shears. The templates of the bodies thus defined, were wrapped around a drum, overlapping their ends about 6 millimeters. Then they welded this area by hand, – with the classic welder that as children we saw the itinerant tinsmiths use – resulting in a side seam. Subsequent to this type of seam it was called “overlapped”.

Old winding machine

Old snapper

In later years the procedure was improved: the body was curved passing the templates through a roller system or roller. In 1861, Pellier in France obtained a patent for a machine – co-crushing – that was able to prepare the ends to be welded, folding them and forming hooks that once joined and tightened were welded on the outside

As has already been said, it was initially the canners themselves who manufactured their containers, but little by little, can manufacturers appeared themselves. The development of specific machines with a certain degree of complexity contributed to this. Thus, in 1883, the Norton Brothers Company of Chicago invented a semiautomatic bodymaker, with a built-in side seam welding machine, reaching a production capacity of 40 bodies / minute. In less than a decade this equipment was improved and was already able to exceed 100 bodies / minute. The firm Norton Brothers was created in 1868 in Toledo (Ohio), initially it was a vegetable canner, which manufactured its own packaging. It was growing and specializing in manufacturing them, finishing, to assemble factories dedicated exclusively to this market.


To make the covers, the tin discs were drawn and cut larger than the opening at the ends of the body, so that their edges could be bent to form a “skirt”. This was achieved by hammering with a mallet on a support called “formador”. In order to fill the food container, one of the covers had a hole of about 35 millimeters in the center, through which this operation was made. Then, the packer proceeded to weld, on this hole, a disc of the same material that the container manufacturer had also supplied.

In 1847, Allen Taylor in the United States developed a press that, with a suitable tool, was able to make the skirt or tab over the disc. A few years later, this idea was developed in such a way that the cut, the flange and the filling hole on the lid were already made simultaneously. For this it was necessary that Henry Evnas devise the pendulum press.

Body-lid union:

To join the flanged lid to the body, it was placed on a support or mandrel, then the lid was inserted at the end of the body and the assembly was welded by hand. The procedure was cumbersome and slow.

Due to this, its cost was important so there were attempts to make them reusable, based on rebuilding the open end again, lowering its height and placing a new cover. This procedure prospered more or less depending on the country and the products to be packaged. The truth is that he was employed for more than half a century in certain regions, until the sanitary regulations banished him.

In 1859, it was thought to turn the body-lid assembly in an inclined manner, introducing the area to be welded in a welding bath. With this, productions of 1000 containers per day and person were achieved.

Twenty years later, the first machines appeared, developing the previous principle, automatically placing the covers on the bodies and then welding the assembly, (introducing only the area to be closed in a molten bath by tilting the container, as already indicated ). Thus the solder alloy was only applied to the closure, leaving the lid clean of it. Some models of machines capable of doing this operation were the “Howe float” and the “Little Joker” of Meriam.

Welder of packaging in a factory in France

These developments, caused a significant increase in manufacturing, which in turn triggered labor problems, since many tinsmiths specialized in hand welding, were left without work.

In 1859, (when the United Kingdom was assured world primacy under the reign of Queen Victoria) Delaware in the US and in 1869 EJ Bourgine in England, they patented separate models of seamers, which were able to make a closure in mechanical conditions that They already foreshadowed what we now know. Its introduction was gradual and by the end of the century, the containers with welded seals and holes in the lid for filling, began to decay. For these years (1858) the first can opener was patented, devised by Ezra Warner in the state of Connecticut, It was a large piece of equipment, with a curved blade, which did not resemble those in use today, but it was already a specific instrument for this purpose. A little later, in 1866, J. Osterhoudt in New York developed the first container that can be opened with the help of a key crimped on a leg. This invention would be very applied in meat preserves.

From the beginning of the packaging, it was revealed that tinplate also had its weak points, leading to attack and even perforations especially against certain more aggressive products. The manufacturers sought help in the chemical industry and in 1868 the first interior varnishes began to be used in the United States.

Then a series of small companies emerge in North America, which will be the seed, at the beginning of the next century, of a whole series of powerful companies. To name a few, we will cite: Parker (1851) in Baltimore, Dover Stamping (1857), Somers Bros (1862) and SA Ilsley (1865) both in Brooklyn that were part of Continental in 1920, Ginna Co. (1874) in New York that would follow the same path, Campbell Co. (1880) in Waltham, a box with a boat of this signature would go down in history, Acme Can (1880) in Philadelphia that in 1936 would join Crown. Almost at the end of the 19th century – in 1892 – William Painter patented the crown cap – the popular veneers – as a closure for bottles and Crown Cork & Seal Company in Baltimore, a society that would be called to be world leader at the end of the next century. And so many others … but to continue enumerating them would make this narration very dry.

Because the contact between metal and metal, like that which occurred in the new closures, was not totally hermetic, they began to use different materials derived from paper (Regnauld in 1869) or rubber (Marguet in 1875), placed between the edges of the lid and the body to be closed. At the end of that century, Charles Ams developed the first compound or liquid sealing gasket, which began to be applied by hand on the covers, but in a very short time, Julius Brenzinger started up an application machine for this liquid compound, which would be the precursor of today’s high-speed automatic crimping machines.

From the beginning, the American market opted for a type of boat quite simple, cylindrical configuration, which adapted to different uses (vegetables, meats, etc.).

Europe also starts to generate important companies, in Germany and in the year 1861 Erdman Kircheis in the city of Ave / Saxony creates “Kircheis”, a company dedicated in the beginning to manufacture simple equipment to work with sheet metal (cutters, bending machines …). In 1880 he created a specific department of packaging machinery. Its development is spectacular, being known throughout the world. By 1922 more than 1200 workers were engaged in the task of manufacturing excellent equipment based on a myriad of patents. After the Second World War, when it came under Soviet control – East Germany – it was nationalized and took the name of VEB Blema. Even so it continued producing a very important volume of machines that covered all the range to good price but of low quality. With the fall of the Berlin Wall it was again privatized under the name of Blema Kircheis.


In continental Europe, differentiating itself from America, the market in many cases opted for much more varied forms: cylindrical, trunk pyramidal, prismatic, oval, etc. In it one could notice the most refined tastes of old Europe, which always puts the touch of distinction even in the most normal things.


Thus, especially for the market of fish and meat, there appeared non-round containers, such as rectangular, oval, oblong … This allowed to present a much greater range of them to the fillers, which used it to identify more certain foods with its forms. For example: sardines with rectangular, mussels with oval, etc. The manufacture of such containers has always been slower, more difficult and more expensive than the cylindrical ones, resulting in more complex specific equipment.


This type of packaging, as we have said, was widely used in fish preserves, especially throughout the Atlantic coast, from the Scandinavian countries, through the Netherlands, France, Spain and even Portugal. The fishing ports were the origin of this industry and cities like Douardedez, El Havre, Nantes, Santoña, Vigo or Oporto knew in this period the beginning of this activity.


In Sweden and Norway a fish canning industry is consolidated, which demands adequate equipment. The Swedish Henrik Jorgen Reinert develops a new type of seamers that improve the technique of closing and assembles at the end of the century a society for its construction – “Reinert” – which is soon accredited throughout Europe.

Fish packaging factory – rectangular shape – at the end of the 19th century in France


In 1892, Jules-Joseph Carnaud, who was 52 years old and owned a Parisian tin shop, is associated with the Basse-Indre Forges and takes up an old metal packaging factory (Saunier-Tessier) located in Chantenay. Born JJ: Carnaud, which gradually consolidates, becoming the leading manufacturer in France and the largest in the world. Soon he set up factories in the Nantes area and in the north of the country.

A few years before, Alfred Rangot – nicknamed Pechiney – had also created in France the company that bears his nickname, specifically in 1877. Initially it was a chemical company, which later expanded its activity to the aluminum sector and to others. With time it will be the most important company in France. Although in this period has nothing to do with the world of packaging, but it is appropriate to record their birth because in the future will be a key piece of it.

At the end of the century, Johann Andreas Schmalbach, set up in Braunschwerg (Germany) in 1898 a new packaging company, which will be nominated with his surname. There will be an increasing development throughout the next century. In 1967 it will merge with Lubeca Werke, in Lübech, generating a strong company with the compound name of both. Two years later it will be bought by Continental Can, taking the name of Continental Europe.

The 19th century was coming to an end, leaving behind the foundations of what would be the metal industry along the next. Other foundations were also being placed for these years: Germany was defined as a great industrial power and began to have frictions with the traditional powers of the century that ended, which had based its strength on colonialism (England and France). War clouds began to appear on the horizon.

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