Better than the Internet

Brits vote for beer-can widget as best invention of the last 40 years

Nov 11, 2003 - Forget the Internet, cloning and Napster. A recent survey in England determined that the greatest technological invention of the last 40 years is the widget, the plastic device placed inside of a beer can to help it pour a foamy head.


David Warren of Wilkinson Sword commented: "We know Britain is a nation of beer lovers but nothing prepared us for this finding," said David Waren of Wilsinson Swoard, the razor blade maker that commissioned the survey. "It just goes to show Britons let nothing get in the way of a good pint."

The widget grabbed 48% of nearly 9,000 votes cast at the technical innovation website Guinness won a Queen's Award for Technological Achievement in 1991 after spending five years and 5 million developing the device.

Email and the Internet placed a distant second with 13% of the vote.

The widget — now used by many other brewers as well as Guinness — is a small piece of plastic with a minute hole punched into it. It is placed inside the can during the first stage of the packaging process. Guinness spent several years, and tried dozens of prototype widgets before coming up with the right shape, weight and density of plastic.

Once a can is filled with Guinness from the holding vats, it is sealed. Once sealed and chilled, the Guinness inside the can becomes naturally pressurized, and this pressure forces about 1% of the Guinness inside the widget.

When the can is opened, the contents reach normal atmospheric pressure. The 1% of Guinness which is held inside the chamber of the widget is forced out through the small opening in the widget as the pressure inside and outside the can equalize. The effect is to produce millions of tiny bubbles which rise to the surface and form the familiar, creamy head.

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