During the first years of the Napoleonic Wars, the notable French newspaper Le Monde, prompted by the government, offered a hefty cash award of 12,000 francs to any inventor who could devise a cheap and effective method of preserving large amounts of food. The larger armies of the period required increased, regular supplies of quality food. Limited food availability was among the factors limiting military campaigns to the summer and fall months. In 1809, a French confectioner and brewer, Nicolas Appert, observed that food cooked inside a jar did not spoil unless the seals leaked, and developed a method of sealing food in glass jars. The reason for lack of spoilage was unknown at the time, since it would be another 50 years before Louis Pasteur demonstrated the role of microbes in food spoilage. However, glass containers presented challenges for transportation.
Glass jars were largely replaced in commercial canneries with cylindrical tin or wrought-iron canisters (later shortened to "cans") following the work of Peter Durand (1810). Cans are cheaper and quicker to make, and much less fragile than glass jars. Glass jars have remained popular for some high-value products and in home canning. Tin-openers were not invented for another thirty years — at first, soldiers had to cut the cans open with bayonets or smash them open with rocks. The French Army began experimenting with issuing tinned foods to its soldiers, but the slow process of tinning foods and the even slower development and transport stages prevented the army from shipping large amounts across the French Empire, and the war ended before the process was perfected. Unfortunately for Appert, the factory which he had built with his prize money was razed in 1814 by Allied soldiers invading France.
Demand for tinned food skyrocketed during World War I, as military commanders sought vast quantities of cheap, high-calorie food to feed their millions of soldiers, which could be transported safely, survive trench conditions, and not spoil in transport. Throughout the war, soldiers generally subsisted on low-quality tinned foodstuffs, such as the British "Bully Beef" (cheap corned beef), pork and beans and Maconochies Irish Stew, but by 1916 widespread boredom with cheap tinned food amongst soldiers resulted in militaries purchasing better-quality food to improve morale, and the complete meals in a tin began to appear. In 1917 the French Army began issuing tinned French cuisine, such as coq au vin, whilst the Italian Army experimented with tinned ravioli and spaghetti bolognese. Shortages of tinned food in the British Army in 1917 led to the government issuing cigarettes and amphetamines to soldiers to suppress their appetites. After the war, companies that had supplied military tinned food improved the quality of their goods for civilian sale.