Man, the tin can is pretty amazing. Not only can you tie it with some string and make a phone call, or use it for a variety of upcycled home decor/storage uses, but it also does a pretty fine job of keeping the pantry stocked and stacked.
In 1810 British merchant and inventor Peter Durand patented the tin can. In short order, he sold the patent to entrepreneurs Bryan Donkin and John Hall who developed, in 1813, the first commercial canning factory. Canned foods from the factory were first produced for the British Army. In fact, the need of preserving food was originated in the military.
The idea to preserve sealed foods was encouraged by Napolean, who offered 12,000 Francs to the person who could invent such a method. Nicholas Appert took the principles from wine bottling to suggest a method to preserve food through sterilization. Durand, after experimentation with Appert’s concepts, patented tinplating, pottery, and glass as preservation methods.
Originally so thick they had to be cracked with a hammer, tinplated canning would hermeutically seal foods. Alas, lead solidering to close the cans eventually caused lead poisioning after prolonged exposure (several Artic explorers in 1845 died after three years of eating canned foods).
The invention of the tin can would spark several industry creations, spread across the globe, and change food storage and preservation–dare I say the culinary world in general. From its origins in hungry soliders and scurvy seamen during the Napoleonic Wars, to the quick creation of mass production, the tin can was in many ways one of harbingers of the Industrial Revolution.
For an informative timeline on the history of the can: http://prev.qbyv.com/history_of_can.htm
For an in depth article from 1937 Modern Mechanix: http://blog.modernmechanix.com/2006/03/21/romance-of-the-tin-can/?Qwd=./ModernMechanix/2-1937/tin_can&Qif=tin_can_2.jpg&Qiv=thumbs&Qis=XL#qdig