When I was 10 I cut my thumb badly trying to fix our electric can opener. It was a tall white appliance, about the size of a loaf of bread standing on its end. A remarkable machine really – it had a mechanism that held the can in place, cut the top, and magnetically removed the lid all without having to touch it.
How did the can opener evolve to such a glorious state from its origins as a superfluous pocket knife accessory? According to Wikipedia, the first can opener was patented in 1855, the modern “butterfly” type opener appeared in the early 1900s and the first electric can openers appeared in 1931. The specific model that accosted me at age 10 was the result of nearly 140 years of research and development.
Last week, while preparing dinner, I was faced with opening a can and no opener could be found. Reaching for my pocket knife, I settled in and prepared for a process which I expected to take at least twenty minutes. To my surprise – it took me no more than a minute to fully open the can using the most basic tool.
How could so much research and development lead to such minor improvements in function? Additionally – while continuously revising the same mechanism (and selling version after version of the same tool) surely it occurred to someone to think about things differently.
Apologies to all for the uncharacteristically late entry and happy belated Valentines Day!