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The History of Home Canning

Home canning is a common self-sufficiency and homesteading skill. By home canning you can preserve the fruits, vegetables and meats you grow and produce on your homestead for the years to come.

It’s economic, green, and having a stockpile of healthy, home-grown foods gives us a sense of security that while we can’t predict the future, we know at least we’ll have food on the table.

history of home canning

The beginning of home canning

We owe the invention of canned food to Nicolas Appert, a French confectioner and chef.

During the late 1700’s, he began experimenting with was to preserve food stuffs and discovered that the presence of air led to spoilage.

He wasn’t entirely correct, but he was on the right path.

Napoleon’s war caused the French government to begin the quest too.

They offered a prize of 12,000 francs to anyone who could successfully preserve food.

An Army marches on its stomach, right?

While it is actually the combination of heat and lack of air that preserves food safely, Appert wasn’t aware of this.

His process involved placing food inside of glass jars that were then corked, and sealed with wax.

milk canned at home

The jars were then wrapped in canvas and boiled.

This combination of lack of air, protection from sunlight, and heat that led Appert to win France’s prize in 1810.

He subsequently published a book called The Art of Preserving Animal and Vegetable Substances.

In 1812, and Englishman, Brian Donkin, substituted the glass jars, corks and canvas with tin cans.

Tin provided an unbreakable container which served marching Armies much better. The British Army and Royal Navy were Donkin’s main customers.

However, the process was slow and labor-intensive as each can was made by hand.

And can openers didn’t exist yet, so cans were a pain to open.

Soldiers would have to open them with their bayonets or smash them open with rocks.

The Beginning of Canning Foods in the US

Robert Ayars introduced the United States to canning the same year as Donkin began experimenting with tin cans.

Ayars opened the first American canning factory in New York City, using tin-plated wrought-iron cans.

By the mid 1800’s, canned food became somewhat of a status symbol of the middle-class households in Europe.

That combined with the migration of people into city centers, increased the demand for canned food.

home canning jars full of preserves line a shelf

By the late 1800’s, several wars (namely the Crimean, American Civil war, and the Franco-Prussian war) put canned food into the hands of thousands of soldiers, increasing the demand on these canning factories and allowing them to expand their business.

If the previous wars hadn’t done enough to expand the canned food industry, World War I sealed the deal.

Millions of soldiers, across the world now needed cheap, high-calorie food with a long shelf life.

Canned Goods on the Bertrand

In 1865, a steamboat named the Bertrand sank in the Missouri River.

More than 100 years later, in 1974, canned food was retrieved from the shipwreck, among other things.

The National Food Processors Association tested the food and determined it was still safe to eat – there was no trace of microbial growth.

The smell and appearance had suffered, but even after 109 years, it was perfectly safe.

These days, canning can extend a food’s shelf life to between one and five years. Although, as the Bertrand can attest, potentially a lot longer.

While tin cans are most used in the commercial canning industry, glass jars are most popular for home canning.

During the US recession in 2008-2009, there was a 11.5% rise in sales of canning supplies.

Retail analysis conclude that when families are financially stressed, they tend to stay in, eat at home, and grow what they eat as a way of saving money.

If you’d like to learn more about how to can the right way, check out my friend Melissa’s Home Canning with Confidence course!

Hillsborough Homesteading Canning posts

Here is a list of my favorite tried-and-true canning recipes:

  1. Ultimate List of Canning Recipes
  2. 50+ FREE Canning eBooks
  3. Canning Equipment: The 7 Things You Need Before You Start Canning
  4. 50+ Tips and Tricks About Home Canning



Friday 11th of August 2017

Thankful my Granny and my mother in law taught me to can! I tried unsuccessfully to make pickles this year, using a couple versions with horseradish. Our cucumber plants are so prolific this year!!