The ring pull can was invented by Ermal Cleon “Ernie” Fraze of Dayton, Ohio, in 1959. It was first put to the test by Iron City Brewing in Pittsburg in 1962 and soon became widely used for beer and soft drinks. The first brewery in Australia to use the ring pull can was the Swan Brewery in Perth. The original ring pull detached from the can and became a significant litter problem.
Before the ring pull can, beer and soft drink cans had to be opened with a device called a church key. You punctured two holes on opposite sides of the can top. The ring pull added convenience but there was the problem of what to do with the detached piece of metal. To avoid littering, one answer was to drop it into the can, but this had its own perils.
As an article in The Journal of the American Medical Association noted, at least seven children over a period of a little over three years had “been treated for complications of ingestion or aspiration of pull tabs from aluminum beverage cans.” The threat to health, combined with the environmental impact of millions of discarded ring pulls, spurred the industry to invent something better.
The next development was what its inventors, Coors brewery in the United States, called the press-tab. In Australia, it was known as the pop top. This system had two openings – a small pressure-release valve and a larger opening for drinking from. The circular tab remained attached after it was pushed in. It had its own problems though: you were likely to cut your finger pushing in the tab.
The problem was finally solved by US engineer Daniel F. Cudzik, who developed what he called the Sta-Tab, the fold-back opening common on soft drink cans today. The new device was patented in 1975 and has been universally adopted as the standard opening system for beer and soft drink cans.