This morning I'll be posting an often overlooked bit of US military hardware that literally became an iconic item for every serviceman from WW2 and into the First Gulf War............ the P-38 can opener!
The can opener I'll be showing off today is my own personal P-38 that I've carried on my work key chain since the 1980's. It's simple, always works, and works effectively! I've had others, but this is the one that I've always carried. (We used to get these in all of our C-Rations that we carried on the 44 foot, USCG Motor Lifeboats).
The P-38 was originally designed to open the new canned C-rations that were issued in WW2. Designed in the Summer of 1942, these little can openers were included in the "C-Rat" boxes by the handful, and quickly became a hit with the GI's.
They were most often seen on his dog-tag chain and later became a cherished memento of life in the field. These P-38s were named after the 38 cuts it took to open the rim of a "C-Rat" can. In the P-38's 70 year history, they were the one GI issue item that ALWAYS worked, never needed fixing, and never broke. In short, this was the one item that was always at hand when a hungry GI dove into his beloved "C-Rats", and the one item he didn't have to monitor, maintain, or adjust....... it just worked.
The P-38's were made and issued by the millions and continue to be manufactured today for the civilian market, but the real prizes are the "original" P-38's. There are even folks who collect these little openers! They were manufactured by quite a number of US manufacturers through the years. A great website that lists all of the markings, manufacturers and dates can be found here: Georgia-Outfitters
There is a list of dates, makers and markings about half way down the page to help you identify your old P-38 and the rest of the site is FILLED with bits of P-38 info, specifications, stories, and photos. You can even order vintage P-38's! Good stuff!
My P-38 was manufactured by J.W. Speaker Corp. of Milwaukee Wisnonsin. According to the markings, it was made in 1948 or 1951. This would make my little P-38 a Korean War Veteran. Originally it would have been issued in it a small envelope with use instructions printed on it.
Here are a few close-up photos of my P-38:
And here are some historic shots of GI's enjoying their "C-Rats" in the field..........
Viet Nam era: