Forty-eight years after canned food began feeding the British Royal Navy, the can opener made its debut. Until 1858, sailors had no easy way to open such rations. Knives, chisels, and bayonets were used to open the heavy iron containers. American Ezra Warner invented the first dedicated can opener, which consisted of a hook and a short blade attached to a handle. The manual cutting-wheel opener was patented in 1870. The electric can opener arrived 61 years after that.
Source: 'Famous First Facts,' by Joseph Nathan Kane, Steven Anzovin, and Janet Podell; 'Panati's Extraordinary Origins of Everyday Things,' by Charles Panati.
(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor