Search For New Territory

THE GREAT INTERNATIONAL SEARCH FOR NEW TERRITORY further propelled the use and notoriety of the can. Likewise, the advantages of well preserved canned food enabled bolder expeditions. Explorers in search of the elusive Northwest Passage, such as Otto von Kotzebue of Russia, were quick to benefit. He wrote of a "discovery made lately in England" which he thought "too important not to be made use of," and took some canned meats with him on his voyage in 1815.

Sir William Edward Parry made two arctic expeditions to the Northwest Passage in the 1820's and took canned provisions on his journeys. One four-pound tin of roasted veal, carried on both trips but never opened, was kept as an artifact of the expedition in a museum until it was opened in 1938. The contents, then over one hundred years old, were chemically analyzed and found to have kept most of their nutrients and to be in fairly perfect condition. The veal was fed to a cat, who had no complaints whatsoever.

As cans traveled over land and sea, can making spread as well. In Germany, where tinplate had been invented hundreds of years earlier, tin cans were made by hand by plumbers—artisans who, in those days, worked primarily with lead, zinc, tin and other metals.

The father of the can manufacturing industry in the United States was an Englishman who immigrated to the new country and brought his newfound canning experience with him. Thomas Kensett set up a small canning plant on the New York waterfront in 1812 and began producing America's first hermetically sealed salmon, lobsters, oysters, meats, fruits and vegetables. Kensett began his operation using glass jars but, finding glass expensive, difficult to pack and easily broken, soon switched to tin. He and his father-in-law, Ezra Daggett, were awarded the U. S. patent for preserving food in "vessels of tin" by President James Monroe in 1825.

A competitor, Charles Underwood, set up shop in Boston and preserved fruits, pickles, and condiments in crocks. Underwood was also an Englishman and had landed in New Orleans originally, but found no one there interested in his canning idea. After making his way to Boston on foot, he started his business which shipped its products primarily to South America and the Far East. He too eventually switched to tin.