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Happy 77th Birthday, Canned American Beer

Happy 77th Birthday, Canned American Beer


Written by Lloyd Alter

It is that time of year, the end of January when the anniversary of the first beer can rolls around, and somebody writes an article about its history. Andrew Sullivan picks up the story from Rob Ogden, who writes that “Despite the beer can’s initial success, it didn’t actually surpass the bottle market until the 1960s.”

That’s the real story, the reason that hosers north of the border are drinking their beer from bottles and Americans are drinking it from BPA lined genderbending disposable aluminum cans. Canned beer became the American standard with the completion of the interstate highway system, which let brewers build massive centralized breweries and ship the stuff all over the country by truck. But you couldn’t do that with returnable bottles, as the distribution and handling of bottles was a local business. So the brewers took their huge savings from their massive, efficient beer factories and put it into advertising and price cutting, and put almost every local brewery out of business.

North of the border, there is a deposit on every bottle, and 98% of them are returned and refilled dozens of times.

Credit: Lloyd Alter with info from Heather Rogers

The dominance of the American beer can is a story of the victory of centralized mass production instead of local, big business destroying small, the change from a reusable container to a disposable one, the switch from short-range shipping of a locally consumed product to the logistics of nationwide diesel transport, from healthy glass to BPA epoxy lined aluminum cans. It is nothing to celebrate.

This post was originally published by TreeHugger.


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Photo from israelavila via flickr

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8:28AM PST on Feb 12, 2012

looks like the US needs to step up their game

4:38AM PST on Feb 2, 2012

Thanks for the article.

3:24PM PST on Feb 1, 2012

Drink responsibly and recycle constantly!

10:29AM PST on Feb 1, 2012

thank you

10:05AM PST on Feb 1, 2012

recycle! reuse. and ew to beer, just saying

10:03AM PST on Feb 1, 2012

Riciclare è giustissimo

8:19AM PST on Feb 1, 2012

and yet in the US only half of the cans are recycled. recycling one aluminum can saves enough energy to run a TV for 3 hours.

4:42AM PST on Feb 1, 2012

@ Monica: there's nothing wrong with drinking a pint of good beer in good company, or is there?

4:00AM PST on Feb 1, 2012

It's the loss of small breweries that is the tragedy here.

3:58AM PST on Feb 1, 2012

You're right. This isn't a cause for celebration. Actually I don't drink out of a can or a bottle. I use a glass.

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