"Mater Artium Necessitas." The P-38!
March 26, 2008
Somewhere, someplace, from World War II through actions in Korea and Vietnam and into the late Cold War era, on any day of the week, any month of the year, a GI could be found unleashing a P-38 upon his target. Starting with veterans of World War II, GIs found a tool that many have carried ever since on key rings and dog tag chains and in their wallets. It does not break or rust or ever need sharpening. What is so fascinating and essential about this tool that endears it to the American GI'
Not the famous Aca,!A"LightningAca,!A? fighter plane of WWII fame, this P-38 is a can opener that was distributed with C-Rations. It is a small, virtually indestructible device. Initially intended only as a can opener, it has since become far more. Major Renita Foster, in a 1986 article, identified 29 auxiliary uses for the ubiquitous P-38. Another soldier, Master Sergeant Steve Wilson, has compiled a list of 38 additional taskings for this ultimate multiAca,!"tool. Most soldiers gave no thought to the origin and history of the device. Most assumed that it was designed by someone working for the U. S. Army. This was reinforced in an article by Major Foster where she indicated it was developed in just 30 days in the summer of 1942 by the Subsistence Research Laboratory in Chicago.
However, the old biblical saying Aca,!A"Aca,!A| there is no new thing under the sunAca,!A? applies to the story of the P-38. Further research reveals that a longer history surrounds this workhorse tool. Early patents for devices very similar in design do exist. We find U.S. patent number 1082800, dated December, 1913, was issued to E. M. Darque for a Aca,!A"tin box opener.Aca,!A? Later devices, similar in nature, also appear. In a 1924 issue of the publication Popular Mechanics there appears a picture of a can opener very similar to the P-38. Post WWII, separate patents were issued on a can opener looking quite like the P-38. Samuel Bloomfield received a patent [no. 2412946] on December 24, 1946, for his Aca,!A"can opener,Aca,!A? while a J. W. Speaker likewise was issued one on December 31, 1946, [no. 2413528] for a Aca,!A"pocket type can opener.Aca,!A?
The origins of the device aside, the P-38 is a versatile implement that has proven useful both in and outside of the military. Its capabilities exceed its original purpose as the multitude of identified uses attests. The P-38 type can opener remains in use and can still be purchased today.