The History of Food Preservation
This scourge did not go unnoticed by the military. Feeding armies became an impossible problem. In 1795, the French government took action. A prize of 12,000 francs would be awarded to the inventor of the best-preserved food.
That was a lot of money at that time and a French chef named Nicholas Appert took up the challenge. Even though he had no formal education or training in chemistry, Appert combined his experience as a candy maker, vintner (wine), brewer, (beer) and pickle maker. After 15 years of experiments, he successfully preserved food.
The inventor/cook filled glass bottles with vegetables and closed then with cork stoppers—next, he immersed them in boiling water. He figured out that, similar to wine production, the introduction of air spoiled food. In 1810, the French Emperor gave Appert his prize. La Maison Appert, in the town of Massy, near Paris, became the first food-bottling factory in the world, years before Louis Pasteur proved that heat killed bacteria. That process called appertization, and his book, The Art of Preserving All Kinds of Animal and Vegetable Substances for Several Years, made its way around the world.
In the early 1800s, three men –Peter Durant, William Underwood and Thomas Kensett– took the Appert idea and ran with it. Durant’s key improvement was moving from glass vessels to fashioning containers out of tinplate. For this, he secured a patent. His method was using round iron canisters coated in tin, to prevent rust and corrosion. Rumor had it that Durant founded his technique on the advice of a friend, Philippe Henri de Girard, a French engineer who is the uncredited inventor of food preservation involving tin cans.
In Boston, Massachusetts, William Underwood used glass packing for condiments such as mustard, ketchup, and pickled vegetables but is most well known for switching to cans and the introduction of Underwood Ham.
Thomas Kensett went to the United States and got a patent in 1825, then set up shop on the New York waterfront to can sealed fruits, vegetables, oysters and meat. His business took off.
The demand for cans kicked up with the American Civil War in 1861.