SIDNEY — In an event that is hard to imagine in today’s COVID environment, nearly 2,500 Shelby Countians gathered together a year ago on Sept. 18, 2019, at the Sidney Memorial Stadium to help Shelby County set a Guinness World Record for the number of people opening drink cans simultaneously. The former record set earlier in Japan was shattered when 2,344 cans were “popped” successfully, securing Sidney/Shelby County and Stolle Machinery’s place in the world record book.
The company is named after Ralph Stolle, an inventive entrepreneur from Cincinnati who, along with his father and brothers, founded the Stolle Corporation in 1923, opening a facility in a space shared with the Prima Washing Machine Company in 1934. From its earliest days as a small plating company, the organization would grow to multiple locations that included the creation of the Stolle Machinery Division which perfected the manufacture of the easy-to-use pop top can opener. Today, the company is the world’s leading supplier of two-piece can and end-making machinery for the global can making industry, with machines installed in can plants all over the world.
Ralph Stolle held more than 50 patents
Ralph Stolle was a prolific inventor who held more than 50 patents, and with the assistance of his highly-skilled engineering staff, developed machinery that made mass production of pop-top beverage cans practical. Back in the day, the only way to open a beverage can was by the use of a can opener and suppliers were searching for an easy-open can that would eliminate the need for a separate tool. The idea of the pop top had already been introduced by Ermal Fraze of the Dayton Reliable Tool Company, but it was not until Stolle developed its fast-moving machines making scoring the top of the can economical, that the production of these cans really took off.
Today, nearly 200 billion drink cans are produced each year, forming approximately 6,700 cans every second. Nearly 75% of these cans are made of aluminum and, thus, it was a perfect fit to match Stolle’s experience in treating and forming this material to the Alcoa (Aluminum Company of America) that bought the Stolle Corporation in 1975. Stolle owned more than twenty companies and had a passion for farming, using his San Mar Gale farm in Lebanon, Ohio to develop a “Stolle Immune Milk,” which created a method of harnessing, concentrating and increasing the natural immune fractions in cow’s milk, making it healthier for people to drink. The name of his farm came from the combination of the names of Stolle’s daughters, Sandy, Mary Jo and Gale and the land also included a private airport until the late 1990s. The “milk” has garnered numerous patents and is still produced today in New Zealand and is for sale in the U.S. and throughout Asia, He donated time and money to establish the Countryside YMCA in Lebanon and was 91 years old at the time of his death in 1996.
What would the world be like without engineers?
“Manufacturing is more than just putting parts together. It’s coming up with ideas, testing principles and perfecting the engineering as well as final assembly” – James Dyson. Fritz Close was not only an employee of Alcoa, but had also collaborated with Ralph Stolle on the construction of the Empire State Building and the Rockefeller Center in New York City. In 1962, Close suggested a trip to Dayton to meet Fraze and Stolle did so, accompanied by his chief engineer, Elton Kaminsky. A 1943 graduate of Sidney High School, Kaminsky was a WWII vet who earned a degree in mechanical engineering from Ohio Northern University. Hired by Stolle as an engineer in 1951, he worked his way up the ranks, earning his professional engineering certification in 1957. Former Stolle President Richard Pope described him as “a quiet genius who was brilliant and always coming up with ideas.”
Stolle filed the first patent for a “tear top can with captive tear strip” in 1967, earning Patent #3,462,042 in August 1969, followed up by several patents, including Patent 3,762,597 for Kaminski in 1973. Kaminsky would eventually hold more than 30 patents in his career, with 15 of those directly related to this technology. He retired from the Stolle Corporation in 1992 as senior vice president, earning the Francis C. Frary award for a lifetime of outstanding individual contribution to Alcoa Technology and dedication to excellence. He was also inducted in to the Sidney High School Hall of Honor in 2007 for his outstanding accomplishments. Kaminski lived to the age of 89, passing away in 2014.
Stolle family members joined world record event
The Guinness World Record attempt was held in conjunction with Shelby County’s 200th Bicentennial Celebration and featured members of Ralph Stolle’s family, including his grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Great-grandson, Adam Cranmer, who was too young to remember his great-grandfather, praised the illustrated life story of Stolle titled, “Ingenuity in a Can,” (authored by Geoff Williams), as a great source of information on the company and Stolle’s many accomplishments. As a sponsor for the world-record attempt, the company closed their Sidney operations for a day so that their 75 employees could participate in the event.
Students and the community gather together to set record
Planning began years ago as the Shelby County Bicentennial Committee worked closely with multiple groups in order to successfully pull off an activity of this magnitude. Sidney Alive staff were there the day of the event coordinating the entrance of the public onto the football field, the Sidney City Schools permitted the use of its stadium and brought in sixth through 12th grade students from Anna, Botkins, Christian Academy, Fairlawn, Fort Loramie, Jackson Center, Lehman Catholic, Hardin-Houston, Russia, Sidney and the Upper Valley Career Center. The Shelby County Amateur Radio Emergency Services also helped with traffic control, planning the traffic route so that the buses’ movements were carefully tracked in order to safely move large numbers of students on and off the field. Confirming the number in attendance as well as those who successfully opened their cans in five seconds was no small task and required many volunteers – stewards who were assigned to groups of 50, documenting all that accomplished the record-setting goal.
Thankfully, Mother Nature cooperated with a beautiful, sunny day, and when it was all said and done, the Guinness World records adjudicator Michael Empric, of New York City confirmed that 2,344 cans were successfully “popped,” and then announced, “Congratulations to all of you. Welcome to the Guinness family. You are officially amazing.”
Each person left that day with a special “wooden nickel,” a keepsake can of water documenting their participation in the attempt and the knowledge that they had helped put Shelby County’s name in the Guinness World Record book.
The writer is a former 15-year Stolle employee who visited Ralph Stolle’s farm in Lebanon and spent her very first week at the company providing administrative support for Elton Kaminsky while his long-time secretary, Bonnie McKnight was on vacation. References for this article include a June, 2005 article by Dorothy Foster and patent information courtesy of the United States Patent and Trademark office. A special thank you to Melanie Speicher for her detailed 2019 Sidney Daily News article describing the activities of the day.