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Pop can top (Public Radio Commentary)

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(For radio stations: Bill's public radio work can be licensed via PRX).

I just installed a pop can crusher in my home and it saddens me every time I use it.

To me a pop can is a thing of incredible beauty and elegance, even the tab used to open the can is an engineering masterpiece. {sound of pop top opening, sound of pop over ice.} Recently I opened thirty cans of cheap root beer just to see how this tab worked.

As I studied the tabs, in a room reeking of root beer, I got more and more interested. So I called its inventor. Dan Cudzik begin by telling me it took him five years to invent the stay-on-tab. I said to him "Wasn't that a lot of work for a piece of metal?" Dan said: "It wasn't a piece of metal, it was a whole concept." Dan explained that he was racing every can company in America to invent the stay on tab.

The removable tabs of the sixties where an environmental hazard: They littered beaches and also children would sometimes eat them. This drove Dan Cudzik to find a way to keep the tab on the can. He faced this problem: The can has a perforated disk of metal which must be snapped out of the opening.

When Dan tried to use the tab as a lever to do this it either snapped off, or required him to build a huge tab - one too large to be economically manufactured. Dan became so obsessed with this problem that he would wake in the middle of the night, his mind filled with ideas.

To help him think he would climb into his car and drive 110 miles to the mountains nearby, then drive straight home arriving in the morning as his family was rising. One evening, after nearly five years of thinking, Dan was watching TV with his kids and his wife. And the whole concept - to quote him - hit him "like a ton of bricks." He rushed up to his kitchen and began to sketch.

The key, Dan realized, was to use the lever - the tab we pull - to widen the opening in the top of the can and let the perforated disk fall into the can, instead of pushing it through the opening. The next day Dan built a working model from cardboard, aluminum foil, and tape. It was ten times the size of a normal can, and with its swinging inner lid, it looked a lot like a toilet seat. Dan tested it again and again - and every time it worked fine.

Today Dan Cudzik's stay-on-tab is used on every one of the 100 billion pop cans that are made a year. And now you can know see why I'm saddened when I take one of Dan's tiny engineering masterpieces and destroy it in my can crusher.

Copyright 2001 William S. Hammack Enterprises