Home > From the tavern: Innovation stories and opinions > The inventor, the innovator and the idiot – A short history of tin can

The inventor, the innovator and the idiot – A short history of tin can

20130422-235000.jpg A thorough article on the BBC website tells the story of how canned food was invented, taken to market, turned into a worldwide success, how it was almost killed by a cheap meat scandal, but eventually survived. It shows how:

– Innovation sprung from the challenge of feeding the sea-faring navies of Britain, France and Holland, where an appalling proportion of sailors used to die from malnutrition;

– Nicolas Appert, the inventor, came up with the idea of cooking food in sealed glass jars, thereby inventing what Louis Pasteur would later call sterilisation;

– Bryan Donkin, the innovator, made the connection between Appert’s discovery and the tin can technology, meeting the customer needs not only for preserved food but also for packaging robustness; he was soon imitated and an entire industry was created;

– Stephan Goldner, the idiot in Warren Buffett’s infamous trilogy of innovators, imitators and idiots, almost killed the entire canned food industry when he undercut his rivals to win a contract with the Navy but at the same time cut corners in the production process, resulting in loads of rotten meat being supplied to several expeditions, including John Franklin’s ill-fated one in the Arctic;

– Good PR and the stubborn necessity to meet a pressing and otherwise unmet customer need enabled canned food to survive, expand from the military to millions of households, and prosper to this day.

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