Wednesday, February 4, 2009

P-38 (a.k.a. John Wayne)

Have you ever seen one of these? If you haven't, it is called a P-38 can opener. Since I am a huge fan of army rations, supplies, or simple survival kits and tools, I was given one of these as a small gift over the holiday. Prior to that, I think I'd only vaguely remembered seeing one—probably through my grandfather—some time ago. Other than "can opener" I didn't know it had an official name, so when I was told it was called a P-38, I thought my leg was being pulled (as so often seems to happen). 

I'd forgotten that I received it, and so when I re-found it a week ago I decided to do a little Googling about it. According to Wikipedia, the P-38 was provided with the K-ration (daily combat food ration introduced by the United States army during World War II and issued until the 1980s). Developed in 1942, it is keychain size (1.5 inches, 38 mm long); the longer blade edge usable as a screwdriver, and the hinged portion to pierce can lids. 

My curiosity was mostly in regard to the name. Wiki notes that while it isn't certain where "P-38" comes from, the military designation is "US ARMY POCKET CAN OPENER" and coincidentally, there is a fighter plane also by the same name, P-38. However, the name may relate more to the actual measurement being 38mm and P for Pocket (side note: there is also a larger opener by the name P-51, which is 51mm).

On another site (, they note that the opener originally came in a brown wrapper printed with a diagram for proper use and that it was meant to keep the P-38 clean before using. Since many prepackaged openers were provided in the rations, each could be tossed after a meal. However, they write that many of the GIs were keeping the openers to prevent being without one at chow time.

While doing a little more quick research, I found an interesting advertisement from a 1924 issue of Popular Mechanics. And as I also observed, Wiki writes that it was featured there without mention of military background.

I hope you find this as interesting as I did.

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