Ermal Fraze

If you have consumed any beverage from a can, you can thank Ermal “Ernie” Fraze for inventing the pull-top tab used to open it.

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Ermal Cleon Fraze was born on September 16, 1913 on a farm near Muncie, Indiana. He delivered newspapers as a child, then attended the General Motors Institute Engineering Program before moving to Dayton and getting a job assembling novelties for Cracker Jack boxes.

Ernie soon got into the manufacturing field as a machine tool operator. In 1949, he opened his own company, Dayton Reliable Tool & Manufacturing Co..

While at a picnic with friends, Ernie got the idea for the pull-top from someone trying to open a can of beer. Since nobody had the required “church key” to open the can, they got creative. After trying several options, they finally succeeded while trying the can against the bumper of a car.

There has to be a better way, he thought.

Ernie stayed up that night, working in his basement workshop to make the design. He later used his resources at his company to make the stencils for his idea. His first patent was obtained in 1963.

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Sculpture at Riverscape honoring Fraze’s inventions.

There were issues with the can, however. While it helped immensely to have a “pull-top” attached to each and every can, there was still a hazard involving sharp edges, and lots of litter associated with users simply throwing the extra piece aside after opening. Some users opted to put the tab inside the can, and risked cutting their mouths or swallowing the piece.

Despite these drawbacks, more than seventy-five percent of beer brewers in the US had adopted his “pull-top” design. Hoping to further improve upon his invention, Ernie produced a better model, the “push-in and fold-back tab,” a tab designed to stay attached to the can, and the design still used today.

This invention revolutionized the canned beverages industry, and earned Dayton Reliable Tool millions of dollars per year. DRT remains the leading manufacturer of “push-in and fold-back tabs.”

All of this success and fortune did not go to Ernie’s head, though. 15 years after selling the company, Ernie bought it back, not liking the direction the company was moving, and fearing the new owners would move its location out of the state. He wanted to ensure that all of his Dayton employees would keep their jobs.
He remained humble throughout his successful life, not flashing his fortune with expensive possessions. When he died on October 26, 1989, he and his wife Martha “Marty” still lived in the same Kettering house they bought in 1957.

After his death, Dayton Reliable Tool was bought by its managers. It remains in operation today.

3 thoughts on “Ermal Fraze

  1. Ernie Fraze reminded me of some of the characters played by Jimmy Stewart in films. One of the nicest guys I have ever met. I guided him on an Alaskan fishing trip at Kalgan Island lodge either in the summer of 1988 or 1989. I had no idea he had passed away so soon after his trip and I definitely didn’t have any idea that he was dealing with a health issue when he was at the lodge. He was living life at its fullest. I gave him a piggy back ride across a deep section in a river since the group he was with made it clear that they wanted to make sure he caught some salmon that day. I can happily say that he caught his limit in Silver Salmon which made it a great day. He actually offered me a job in his company and I asked what I would be doing and he said he would find something that would work. Part of me always regretted not taking him up on the offer mainly because I felt he would be a great person to work for. I had never been to Dayton so I had no idea what it would be like to live there. Al I can say is he was a great guy and I feel lucky to have met him!

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