We had an interesting find this week, an odd shaped metal object which is often referred to as a churchkey. Before you get too excited, a churchkey is neither an actual key nor is it in any way related to a church. A churchkey is a metal tool used to open alcoholic beverages. After identifying it, we started to question how this simple object got this interesting and completely misleading name.
First, we needed to know a bit about the beverage industry. A churchkey is a simple, hand operated device used for prying the cap off a glass or metal bottle (thanks to wikipedia for this definition!). Specifically, it was invented for use with ‘crown cork’ caps, the caps seen today on most modern beer bottles and invented in 1898 by the Crown Cork and Seal Company of Baltimore (worldwidewords.org).
In 1935, companies began selling beer in cans. The first alcohol sold in a can was Krueger’s Ale and Krueger’s Beer in Richmond, Virginia, both of which were in a type of can known as a flat top. As pull-tabs were not yet invented (beer connoisseurs would have to wait until 1962 for that convenience), a metal tool was developed with a sharp point which, when pressed into the top of the can, would create a triangular hole through which the beer was consumed.
Because they fulfilled the same purpose, these new openers were likewise called churchkeys, even though they were morphologically quite different than the original (worldwidewords.org). Today, churchkeys are often multipurpose tools and are more likely to be paired with a corkscrew than the triangular punching end.
So what is the etymology of the term churchkey? It’s unclear, but it seems that the main reason lies in the overall shape of the original churchkeys. Simply put, the circular end of the tool reminded people of an old-fashioned key, the kind of key most people would associate with a church. While this seems the most logical answer to the mystery, it is also suggested that the term was applied ironically as drinking, particularly before and during the Prohibition-age when this tool was first invented, was villified by many religious groups in the United States. - Posted by Jasmine Gollup