The Can Opener

19-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Wednesday, November 4, 1914: <<no entry>>can opener

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

Another quiet day. . .

Since Grandma didn’t provide any clues about the direction this post should head, I thought you might enjoy this short essay about can openers in the December, 1914 issue of Farm Journal. Technology was changing the way meals were prepared—and it wasn’t like back in the “good old days.”

The Can Opener

This handy tool, the household pet, we ply with skill and speed; and in the modern kitchenette it’s really all we need. The shining tool that opens cans makes household work a joke; it supersedes the pots and pans, the stoves that used to smoke.

In olden times the toiling wives were always on their feet; they wore away their weary lives preparing things to eat. They fried the meat, they baked the beans, they cooked the spuds. They had no time for magazines, for euchre, or bridge whist.

How fortunate the modern wife, with many a leisure hour! For she can fill with glee her life, and languish in her bower.

And when at evening comes her man, impatient for the eats, she say, “I’ll open up a can of beans or deviled beets.” It takes three minutes by the clock to get his meal in shape; he’s so well trained he doesn’t balk, or try to make escape.

It may be, as hand over hand, he throws the victuals in, he signs for grub that isn’t canned, that doesn’t taste of tin. It may be that his vagrant mind recalls the old-time steak, the dishes of the good old kind his mother used to make. But idle are the man’s regrets, and vain his hopes and plans; this is the age of kitchenettes , and things put up in cans.

Walt Mason

25 thoughts on “The Can Opener

  1. Interesting. I have a friend whose family member actually took the hand held can opener to the next level opening the door to the many varieties that exist today.

  2. Poetry that rhymes is the only kind I like, and this is clever. If Keats had been born later, he would have had more targets for an ode, methinks.

    That the can opener still exists in this form reminds me that many inventions evolve to near perfection.

    paper clip
    ball-point pen
    tire pressure gage
    nail clippers
    table ware (knife, fork, spoon)

    I would have added the safety pin, but I haven’t used one in ages. 🙄

    1. Great choice with the microwave, Tracks. The main thing that’s changed about them is the price. The first counter-top model was introduced in 1967 with a price of just under $500, which in today’s dollars would be $3,500 in today’s dollars. I looked it up.

      1. Wow, it’s amazing how much they’ve come down in price. It’s interesting how prices decrease as technological innovations become more mainstream. For example, I think that I paid about $80 (in 1970s dollars) for my first basic 4-function calculator. Today, one with similar capabilities would only cost a couple dollars.

  3. I remember those can openers. The new sort with handles are much easier to use. But spare me the electric can openers. They’re entirely too much trouble — at least in my opinion.

    Tip of the day: when no one can find a can opener of any sort, a screwdriver and a rock will do the trick. It takes a little while, though.

    1. I don’t even own an electric can opener. Manual can openers are so easy and convenient to use. Thanks for the screwdriver and rock tip–though I’d have to be pretty desperate to actually try it. 🙂

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