It had been no small feat for a brewery to reopen after the long period of
prohibition. About 750 breweries did manage to open for business in post-
prohibition period. Opening proved to be only the first challenge. Only a
small handful managed to emerge at the end of the millenium. Unfortunately, for can collectors only a minority
of the breweries actually invested in canning lines.
There were fewer breweries in business after World War II than before the war. The 750 breweries operating at the end of prohibition shrank to around
400 in 1950. Local breweries were swallowed by bigger local breweries who were,
in turn swallowed by regional breweries. The regional breweries became target for the
big national breweries. This trend has continued unabated through today where the big three
of Anheuser-Busch, Miller, and Coors control the majority of the market. In 1999 this trend
hit home in the Northwest with the closing of the Rainier Brewery of Seattle
and Blitz-Weinhard brewery of Portland. Both breweries date back to the 19th century.
The historic Blitz brewery is slated to be replaced with a "modern" office complex while the
Rainier brewery is being sublet to a coffee company.
The microbrew craze has done wonders for the variety of beer available at the grocery store.
This has been great for the beer drinker, but has done little to help the can collector.
With a few exceptions, such as Petes Wicked Beers, the microbreweries do not can their
The Kessler cone lasted into the early 1960's.
The return of the GI's after World War II did provide a boost to the beer can. These
soldiers became accustomed to drinking beer out of cans overseas. They were comfortable
with the package and purchased beer in cans upon their arrival back home. The cans of the
post war era no longer needed to have opening instructions on their backside. People had
figured out how to get at the contents. This is general indicator to distinguish pre-war
and post-war cans. Now that people were accumstomed to can openers, the cone top beer can
seemed to make less and less sense. For one thing, it was bulkier than the flat-top style
which resulted in higher shipping costs. It was also more difficult for retailers to make
attractive displays from the cone tops, while the flat tops lent themselves to "pyramid"
building. The early advantage of fitting on existing bottling lines passed over time, as
breweries preferred the faster filling speed of the flat top can. After World War II, it
was more and more the smaller poorer breweries who used the cone top. They could not justify
the purchase of a new canning line. Many smaller breweries never did can beer.
The cone top
can began to look old fashioned especially after the bigger breweries
abandoned the container. Cone top cans
faded away through the late 1940's and 1950's. The Kessler Brewery of Montana is believed to
be the last holdout, using the cone top into the 1960's.
The intense competition amongst breweries led brewers to
try different sized cans to gain a market edge. Some felt
the answer was a slightly bigger can. In the mid 1950's the
16 ounce can was introduced. Others felt the answer was a slighty
smaller can and so was born the 8 ounce can. The sixteen ounce can
provided a marketing opportunity to offer more beer for the
same money. A number of brewers packaged their stronger malt liquor
in the 8 ounce cans because of the more powerful punch. Some of the
first malt liquors to be package in the cans included Country Club by
Pearl of St. Joseph, MO., Schlitz of Milwaukee, Gluek of Minneapolis,
and Bull Dog from Atlas of Chicago, and Heileman's Special Export
from LaCrosse, Wisconson. Ironically,
today malt liquor is popular in the pint size cans because the
combination of more liquor content and greater size scored high
on the buzz for the buck scale. The Sir Lady Frothingslosh can was
put on the market as the answer to the popular Miss Rheingold contest
in New York city. The can pictured here was produced by Pittsburgh brewing.
This pictured example has seen better days. Not many of these cans were
produced. The French 76 Malt Liquor can is from National Breweries of
Baltimore. The Schlitz
can pictured is actually a paper label can. Brewer's often entered into
a new market in a cautious way by first producing a paper label can.
Once they realized the product passed the test marketing plan they
took the next step to produce the actual metal cans. The Goebel brewery was
in Detroit while Canadian Ace is out of Chicago. Pikes Peak Malt Liquor
was made by Walter of Pueblo, Colorado.
These eight ounce flat top cans produced in the late 1950's and
Another unusual size is the 10 ounce can which was produced mostly in
the south. The Pabst can pictured here is a flat top can around
1960. The two Anheuser-Busch cans were amongst the first
cans produced with the pull tab. Each proudly announced this fact with
the Tab Top notation at the near the rims of each can. The three cans pictured here were produced between 1960 and 1965. Ten
ounce cans have long been common in Puerto Rico. A number
of ten ounce beer cans are marked have "Puerto Rico" printed
directly on the can.
The 10 ounce cans never really gained popularity.
They are still produced even today although sparingly.
The fourteen ounce can are a compromise between the 12 and 16
ounce can. They were marketed almost exclusively marketed
in the southeast, in particular, Georgia and the Carolinas. Carling produced
at least a dozen different variations of their Black Label brand at their
Atlanta brewery. They are still occasionally
found on grocers shelves today. The can pictured here may be the rarest of
all 14 ounce cans. The National can is from their National brewery location
in Atlanta. The two Burger cans are from their brewery in Cincinnati.
The 14 ounce cans were a compromise between the 12 and 16 oz cans
and were sold mainly in the Southeast U.S.
There were a number of advances in can technology during the 1960's. Coors is generally credited with introducing the aluminum can in the late 1950's. The all aluminum beer can some advantages over the steel can. It is lighter which saved the brewers shipping costs. It also chills faster. All beer drinkers know that it is much easier to crush an aluminum beer can in one bare hand. This impressive display of strength was not so easy with the old steel cans. Only later did the benefits of recycling make the aluminum can a more even appealing choice. The Budweiser and National cans debuted in the early 1960's; well ahead of most aluminum cans. The pull tab was first introduced on the Iron City can as they proudly bragged. It was invented by Ermal C. Fraze of Dayton, Ohio. A good percentage of beer cans from this era hailed this innovation directly on the can. For a brief period before the pull tab, many brewers switched from a steel top to an aluminum top. It is considerably easier to put a can opener through aluminum that steel.
Not only did the number of breweries diminish from prohibition through
the 1980's, but so too did the variety of beer types. The big brewers
played it safe by brewing beers to appeal to the average drinker. They
avoided brews that might offend that middle of the road drinker. The
rise of the light beer phenomonon did little to excite the adventurous
beer drinker either. The big brewers had migrated to pilsener or lager beers.
The ale product lines had all but disappeared. The same can be said of the
seasonal bock beers. A quick look at the beer cans of old clearly indicates
a strong like for Ales particularily on the east coast. The traditional
Bock beer was also found in a number of beer cans. The bock cans never
rivalled beer or ales and as a result are relatively rare. The long time
symbol of beer is the goat. If you find a bock beer can, then you will
find a goat.
History showed that the big brewer's strategy backfired big time. The
1970's and 1980's witnessed the boom of the import beer. The microbrewery
craze delivered even more exotic beers to the consumer and continues to
Draft beer are another variation of beer that have been popular
on and off since 1950's or so. Canned and bottled draft beer is not pasteurized so
just like draft beer from the keg. The pasteurizing process heats the beer
to kill any dangerous bacteria. The heating process also impacts the taste of the
beer. Of course the canned draft beer needed to be kept cold to maintain the
beer's flavor. Miller has brought recently promoted their Miller Genuine Draft
beer that used a Cold Filtering process rather than a process using heat. The Steinbrau is from Maier of Los Angeles while the Pearl is from San Antonio. The Schmidt can is one of the about ten cans in the Schmidt Scene series of 16 ounces cans. There are also about the same number of 12 ounce draft Schmidt cans. The twelve ounce non-draft cans features 23 different scenes. This series of cans may have inspired more people to start collecting cans than any other.
Todays offering of non-alcoholic brews such as O'Douls and Sharps is nothing new. In fact,
many breweries survived prohibition in part producing near beer.
By definition this is beer containing less than 1/2% alcohol by
volume. Pictured are three near beers from the 1950's. Ehrets is out
of New York, Zing is from Kingbury of Sheboygan WI, and Jet is from
United States Brewing of Chicago. The Zing markets itself as a
cereal beverage. Some modern near beers use the term Low Alcohol to describe this class of beer.
Near or non-alcoholic beer.
The Brew 102 can from Maier of Los Angeles is probably the brand with the most cans featuring prices. A later 12 ounce can had the 6/$1.09 price. Their 16 ounce cans went from 6/$1.25 to 6/$1.35 and finally to 6/$1.54. The Golden Gate can another Maier label. The bottom two cans are from Falstaff whose
primary brewery was in St. Louis. During the brewery mergermania, Falstaff acquired breweries in New Orleans, Omaha, San Jose, Fort Wayne, Galveston, El Paso, and Cranston Rhode Island. Falstaff, in turn, was bought out by General Brewery of San Francisoc during the 1970's. General ultimately was bought by Heileman of LaCrosse, Wisconsin. Heileman acquired over a dozen regional breweries over the years, until they ran into financial problems. Strohs bought them. Finally, Miller and Pabst split up the Stroh breweries in 1999.
Looking back over the era since 1935, it is rare that any struggling regional brewery acquired by a bigger competitor managed to survive. There are a few exceptions. The Olympia brewery, being somewhat modern and large, continues to produce beer. The old Heileman brewery in LaCrosse is having a rebirth as the City Brewery.
Some brewers included the price of a six pack right on the
The U.S. beer can history will continue to grow and evolve in the