The first can opener was patented on Jan. 5, 1858 by Ezra Warner. Even though the canning process had been around for many years a commercial opener was never devised, mainly because the first cans were made of such a heavy gauge metal that they could only be opened with a hammer and chisel. Once a lighter gauge can came into use, a pratical can opener was then devised.
Originally meant to be used by military personnel, the opener was large and somewhat dangerous. The bayonet part of opener was pressed into the lid of the can, a metal guard kept it from penetrating too far and then the sickle part was forced into the can and sawed around the edge by rocking the handle up & down.
To all whom it may concern. Be it known that I, EZRA J. WARNER, of the city of Waterbury, in the county of New Haven and State of Connecticut, have invented a new and useful improvement in instruments for cutting open sealed tin cans and boxes; and I do hereby declare that the following is a full, clear, and exact description of the construction, character, and operation of the same, reference being had to the accompanying drawings, which make a part of this specification, in which Figure 1, is a view of the whole instrument, showing the looped bar, (as Fig. 5,) swung across the piercer bar. Fig. 2, is a view of the same, showing another position of the looped bar. Fig. 3, is a view of the shaft, with the piercer bar. Fig. 4, is a view of the curved cutter, (as in Figs. 1 and 2). Fig. 5, is a view of the looped bar, (as in Figs. 1 and 2.)
What is known about Ezra's personal and professional life has been gleaned from historical records, and according to those records, Ezra was born 1819 in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, married Sophia Morgan from Amenia NY, on Nov. 1 1840, at Waterbury, Connecticut.
Ezra paid IRS taxes on a liquor retailers license and a class 6 Hotel license in Waterbury Connecticut in 1862. His list of occupations and residences were, in 1850, Waterbury, CT, a machinist; in 1860 Waterbury, CT, a 'master' (foreman or machinist?) at the local factory; in 1863, a manufacturer, and in 1880 Newark, NJ, a retired manufacturer.
Ezra died 18 April 1889 Newark, New Jersey, and his death certificate listed his last occupation as a button maker. So based on the gathered information, it was possible that Ezra was employed at the Scoville Manufacturing Company (which was a major brass button manufacturer in Waterbury at the time) when he received his can opener patent.