Saturday, December 04, 2010

Iron City- the First Pull Tab Beer Can

A popular story in the beer can collecting world is that an engineer in Dayton, Ohio went on a picnic in 1960 and forgot his churchkey (the now extinct can opener used to punch two holes in the top of a beverage container).  After attempting to open the cans by puncturing them with other tools and even the car bumper and getting a beer shower, the engineer thought there must be a better way to open a beer can.  Upon returning home and thinking about it, that engineer came up a the idea of scoring an aluminum lid to create the shape of the hole and using a small rivet to attach a tab that could be gripped with fingers to pull open the scored portion of the top.

The original tab top - no frills!!

Iron City's 1st Can announcing the arrival of the "snap top" pull tab can

Voila!  The tab top was born and in 1962, Pittsburgh Brewing Company decided to try the new device on its Iron City Beer Cans.  They test marketed the tab top briefly on their regular beer cans and when it turned out to be a hit with the public, printed new cans announcing the "new easy-opening snap top" equpped with the pull tab.  The first tab top had a long narrow opening that flared into a triangular shape at the edge of the lid.  The tab was a simple piece of metal (the edges weren't even rolled!)  that extended a half inch beyond the scored area. 

There were no raised smile beads beside the tab and no text stamped into the lid stating to "Lift tab and Pull"  Later versions included this wording and the smile beads (because apparently there were beer drinkers that (1) could not figure out to pull the tab; and (2) several people actually cut their lips on the plain opening while drinking from the can.  Iron City also came out with a second pull tab can that bragged "No. 1 with the Snap Top"

Iron City was quite proud of their tab top!!

Later versions of the early tab tops also had rolled edges on the tab to prevent cut fingers.  The Oconto can below is an example of a second generation tab top- complete with rolled tab, smile beads, and a "Lift Tab and Pull" statement.  Brewers also had many names for these early tab tops - snap top, pop top, zip tab, zip top, tab top; however beer can collectors use the term "Zip Top" to refer to these early self-opening beer cans.

A fully evolved "zip tab top" - with completely rounded tab
edges--collectors call this type of tab a "U" tab


A second generation tab top with opening instructions, slightly rolled tab edges, and smile beads beside the hole--collectors call this type of tab a "D" tab for the shape of the tab
The tab top era was brief, because within a few years, can makers determined that a ring that a finger could be put through was much easier to operate, and the ring tab replaced the simple tab.  From about 1966 to 1976, the ring tab was found on almost all beer cans (a few cheapskate brewers and soda makers continued to use flat top lids that required an opener into the early 1970s).  However, the ring top soon created another problem - litter!  Like cigarette butts, the ring top was small and frequently disposed by simply dropping it on the ground.   Jimmy Buffet even sang about the dangers of the ring tab in his song "Marguaritaville" (..blew out my flip flop, stepped on a pop top..).

An early ring top - note the very small ring opening- these
were soon replaced with larger rings.

In 1975, Falls City Beer tested the first "Sta-tab" - a device we still use today. The Sta-tab is lifted to push the scored area of the lid into the can and then folded back down, staying on the can.  Although the ring tab did not disappear as fast as the early tab top, by 1984, less than 20 years after its appearance, the ring tab was also gone from the beer can.

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