I was in the kitchen today at lunchtime; Todays food of choice was Heinz Lentil Soup and it got me to thinking, “Tin Cans” Now I don’t know about you but when someone says the words “Tin Can” my first thoughts turn to rubbish dumps and old cans being kicked around as substitute footballs and two tins on opposite ends of a length of string used to communicate in the garden as a kid; but really when you think harder it really is an absolutely genius idea!

Who came up with it? How long have tin cans been around?

The tin canning process was allegedly invented by Frenchman Philippe de Girard and the idea passed to British merchant Peter Durand who was used as an agent to patent Girard’s idea in 1810.[2] The canning concept was based on experimental food preservation work in glass containers the year before by the French inventor Nicholas Appert. Durand did not pursue food canning, but, in 1812, sold his patent to two Englishmen, Bryan Donkin and John Hall, who refined the process and product, and set up the world’s first commercial canning factory on Southwark Park Road, London. By 1813 they were producing their first tin canned goods for the Royal Navy.

So what did we do before Philippe de Girard had his epiphany?

Bottling was an early precursor to canning. Fruit and vegetables were cooked in brine, vinegar, brandy or oil and then sealed in bottles. Vinegar was used for pickles, chutneys, pickled onions and eggs – all still popular as pub food.

Salt was essential for drawing all the moisture from meat and fish before drying and/or smoking. Meat and fish immersed in barrels or tubs of brine were used to feed Nelson’s navy. It tasted disgusting and was very unhealthy. Only the best meat was salted, hence the expression ‘not worth its salt’.

After salting, meat and fish were often dried in the sun, air or oven. Sun-dried fruit, tomatoes and mushrooms were not easy to produce in damp England, so were mostly imported.

Cooked meat and fish potted under a solid topping of butter, pork or goose fat or a “coffyn” of pastry in a pie will keep a filling of cooked meats or fish for several days.


Tin cans have, in 200 years, changed the way the world eats. But Victorian disgust over a cheap meat scandal (much like our not too distant horse meat scandal) almost consigned the invention to rejection and failure.

So the next time you reach for your tin opener give a wee thought to Philippe de Girard, Bryan Donkin and John Hall – the world of convenience food would be a lonely place without them!