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The History of Aerosol Spray Cans

The concept of an aerosol can originated as early as 1790.

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Female hand spray painting wallpaper
Jeffrey Coolidge/ Stone/ Getty Images
The concept of an aerosol originated as early as 1790, when self-pressurized carbonated beverages were introduced in France. In 1837, a man called Perpigna invented a soda siphon incorporating a valve. Metal spray cans were being tested as early as 1862. They were constructed from heavy steel and were too bulky to be commercially successful.

In 1899, inventors Helbling and Pertsch patented aerosols pressurized using methyl and ethyl chloride as propellants.

Erik Rotheim

On November 23, 1927, Norwegian engineer Erik Rotheim (also spelled Eric Rotheim) patented the first aerosol can and valve that could hold and dispense products and propellant systems. This was the forerunner of the modern aerosol can and valve. In 1998, the Norwegian post office issued a stamp celebrating the Norwegian invention of the spray can.

Lyle Goodhue and William Sullivan

During World War II, the U.S. government funded research into a portable way for service men to spray malaria-carrying bugs. Department of Agriculture researchers, Lyle Goodhue and William Sullivan, developed a small aerosol can pressurized by a liquefied gas (a fluorocarbon) in 1943. It was their design that made products like hair spray possible, along with the work of another inventor Robert Abplanalp.

Robert Abplanalp - Valve Crimp

In 1949, 27-year-old Robert H. Abplanalp’s invention of a crimp on valve enabled liquids to be sprayed from a can under the pressure of an inert gas. Spray cans, mainly containing insecticides, were available to the public in 1947 as a result of their use by U.S. soldiers for preventing insect-borne diseases. Abplanalp’s invention made of lightweight aluminum made the cans a cheap and practical way to dispense liquids foams, powders, and creams. In 1953, Robert Abplanal patented his crimp-on valve "for dispensing gases under pressure." His Precision Valve Corporation was soon earning over $100 million manufacturing one billion aerosol cans annually in the United States and one-half billion in 10 other countries.

In the mid-1970s, concern over the use of fluorocarbons adversely effecting the ozone layer drove Abplanalp back into the lab for a solution. Substituting water-soluble hydrocarbons for the damaging fluorocarbons created an environmentally friendly aerosol can that did not harm the environment. This put the manufacture of aerosol spray can products into high gear.

Robert Abplanal invented both the first clog-free valve for spray cans and the "Aquasol" or pump spray, which used water-soluble hydrocarbons as the propellant source.

Spray Paint in a Can

In 1949, canned spray paint was invented by Edward Seymour, the first paint color was aluminum. Edward Seymour's wife Bonnie suggested the use of an aerosol can filled with paint. Edward Seymour founded Seymour of Sycamore, Inc. of Chicago, USA, to manufacture his spray paints.
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