Mankind’s Greatest Invention

Whenever I enter my family’s kitchen, I always take an extra moment of time to gaze upon our beloved can opener, admiring its chiseled stainless steel surface, its flawless flexibility, and its luxurious handle. Neither a Rolex watch nor an iPhone X could be more exquisitely and fastidiously designed.

The can-opener has played a crucial role in my life by inspiring philosophical contemplation of the highest order. In all honesty, I have received greater insight from observing the humble can-opener than I have through all of my high school studies. A mere half hour of sitting outside with the can-opener grasped tightly in one’s right hand will do wonders to spark flights of imagination and discovery, as I have personally witnessed. Indeed, since my childhood, I have possessed a remarkable fascination with the concept of a can-opener—not merely the can-opener itself, but the sublime concept lurking behind and within it.   It reminds me of our ability to conquer the most arduous difficulties—opening a can—by the sheer force of our technological prowess. Can-openers represent the pinnacle of Western civilization, the goal for which Newton, Pascal, Locke, and all the great luminaries have been striving. From the Scientific Revolution to the Enlightenment to the Industrial Revolution, every creative endeavor has laid the groundwork for this supreme invention, this personification of destiny, this manifestation of superior intelligence: the can-opener, which was finally designed in 1858 by the worthy Ezra Warner of Waterbury, Connecticut—forty-eight years after the invention of the first can.

The P-38

Not surprisingly, the can opener has influenced every aspect of our society, from the military to the literary world. In regards to our military, some have gone so far as to label the P-38 C-ration can opener as “the best Army invention ever,” on par with the multi-purpose steel helmet and the faithful Army jeep. Its simplicity and ease of access make the P-38 universally loved among Army privates. As World War II veteran John Bandola put it, “Soldiers just took to the P-38 naturally. The P-38 was our means for eating 90 percent of the time, but the next thing I knew we were using it for cleaning boots, fingernails, screwdrivers, you name it.” Likewise, a Vietnam veteran gives this telling anecdote: “He was gone forever, the Soldier who inside of six months had spent every waking minute with me, living and fighting in the latest conflict…. I wanted to leave something with him to connect us through eternity, something that would assure us both he would never be forgotten. Ever. So I slipped a P-38 can opener into his pants pocket just before they took him away.”

The can-opener has also occupied the greatest literary minds of our generation. For instance, this kitchen utensil inspired the world-renowned classic story, “The Proud Robot” by Lewis Padgett, in which a drunk scientist designs a narcissistic can-opening robot—a story truly Shakespearean in the perfection of its language. If you have not heard of this story, it is not because the story is an abject failure. On the contrary, you clearly have not developed a finer taste for the literature of can-opener cliffhangers. I suggest that you head immediately to your local library and begin exploring this vast genre of can-opener chronicles, cahoots, and contes.

Vintage style

So the next time you stroll into your kitchen, pause to admire your can opener; give this under-appreciated device the attention it deserves. Better yet, consider buying a brand new one that suits your particular tastes. It’s best to avoid the cheap ones; go for only the ones of the highest price tag. Naturally, you’re going to be carrying the can opener around in your pocket and showing it to all your friends, so you want something of only top-notch quality. I suggest vintage with leather casing.

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