Can Sizes a Hundred Years Ago

Table with information about selected can sizes
Source: Household Engineering: Scientific Management in the Home by Mrs. Christine Frederick (1919)

Can sizes today seem like they change constantly. I remember when tuna came in 6 3/4 ounce cans, more recently the cans were 6 ounces, and now they are just 5 ounces. Similarly, I remember when commercially-canned peaches were in 1 pound (16 ounce) cans; now the cans are only 15 ounces.

A hundred years ago there were standard can sizes, and people often referred to cans by their size number. For example, I’ve seen old recipes which call for 1 – No. 3 can of tomatoes. There actually still are standard can sizes, but the size numbers aren’t something on the tip of consumers’ tongues like they once were.

picture of various sizes of cans
Source: Household Engineering: Scientific Management in the Home by Mrs. Christine Frederick (1919)

36 thoughts on “Can Sizes a Hundred Years Ago

  1. Yes, and every time a container — can or otherwise — gets a little smaller, it seems as though the price goes up. It’s such a phenomenon that Blue Bell, our famous ice cream maker, prints on every carton “Still a Half Gallon!” In an age of the marvelous shrinking ice cream “pint,” it’s a good marketing tool.

  2. Good observations. I remember when the yogurt containers went down from 8 oz to 6 oz. I was furious, but no one else seemed to care. I have a couple of cake recipes that called for one 8 oz container of yogurt… which now I just short out… because I’m a rebel.

  3. The yogurt I bought the other day was 5 1/2 ounces! Ah! That’s why it is not a complete lunch! I do remember when I was a kid, my mother referred to most of the cans of vegetables as #2 cans. I don’t remember any other number attributed to the size of the cans.

    1. Whew, some of the yogurt containers are really small. These days I often just buy the large packages of yogurt and scoop out what I want.

      1. That’s what I usually do. too! I buy a local Greek style yoghurt, plain and non-fat, but it is so delicious it almost tastes like cream! I buy it by the quart and it is handy for everything from a snack to a sauce. My granddaughter loves the sweetened ones, so now and then she’ll get a treat.

  4. Going down: I still get recipes that mention a #2 can. But weights can be very different now. What used to be 16 oz. Is now 12 oz. Same price or higher. Going Up: I wonder if dress sizes are different now too…seems like people were smaller 100 years ago. A size 14 is probably labeled a 16 now since we are bigger and bigger. Mind boggling!

    1. I notice in England that we are being flattered by current dress sizes. I’m the size I was when I was 18. Then I was a 12. 50 years later – lo and behold, I’m a 10.

    2. I’ve heard that dress sizes are getting larger. You can actually get larger, and end up wearing the same size dress that you’ve always worn. 🙂

  5. So many of the recipes from my mom use numbered can sizes. I’ve had to go through them and ask her to tell me what size they are nowadays. 🙂

    1. Calling a can by a number suggests that they had a very high level of standardization back then. This was a time period when things were rapidly industrializing and when people were into “scientific” housekeeping.

  6. True the cans are often smaller. A little while back I was looking for canned tuna to discover in wasn’t in cans but little bags! On the positive side, those little amounts are just right for a smaller family.

  7. I think it is rather sneaky the way manufacturers decrease sizes bit by bit. I like the idea of recognizable standard sizing. Seems like a fairer way to do things.

  8. Yes, manufacturers are changing packaging sizes on most, if not all, food products. No biggy (pun intended) but sometimes it requires some adjustments to a recipe.

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