JK SommeFrom Reinets to the modern days



In this section we deal with the exciting development that took place in Stavanger (Norway) in the field of mechanical engineering in the early days of the 20th century. At that time, a large number of skilled designers were immersed in responding to the challenge arising from rapid growth in the canning industry. One of the main problems was to produce machines that manufactured and sealed the millions of cans of sardines that were being produced annually.


In 1866 the Swedish engineer Axel Nilsson of the company "Tøreboda" manufactured the first seaming machine for round cans. The Norwegian canning company "Hagbart Thorsen" was the first to import it. Later, in 1873, Captain Johan G. B. Mëjlaender set up the first canning factory in Stavanger, the Stavanger Preserving Co. In 1879 he created a new product: smoked Norwegian sardines packed in rectangular 1/4 club cans (soldered cans).

It is said that Mëjlaender was the main architect of the future success of the product and the man who knew better than anyone how to market it internationally. It marked the beginning of large-scale marketing of canned Norwegian sardines on a worldwide basis.

The shape of the can, its design and its contents were in some way a copy of the French "sardines in oil". The difference lay in the type of fish and the manufacturing process. The French sardines were fried in oil and the Norwegian ones were smoked. The French claimed that the term “sardine” should only be used for sardines derived from the Mediterranean sardine, Clupea Pilchardus. Finally a decision was taken: in Europe the Norwegian sardine would be marketed as "brisling sardines" or "sild sardines" and in the rest of the world as "sardines".

By 1900, all Norwegian canning companies were using mechanical seamers for seaming round cans. This was not the case for rectangular cans, which were still soldered one at a time.

Can solderers were able to solder 600 cans a day. They worked 24 hours a day and were called "The knights of the soldering iron".

Technical developments in seaming rectangular cans came about from the need to mass-produce canned food for soldiers during the First World War. Between 1900 and 1925 new machines appeared both for manufacturing cans and seaming them at a greater speed and with greater perfection.


On May 17, 1900, Søren Opsal presented the first seaming machine for non-round cans. It was manufactured in the workshops of W. Nessler Mekaniske Verksted (Stavanger), where Opsal was the foreman. Opsal, Nessler and his sons had jointly improved the machine to the point of achieving production of between 5 and 7 1/4 club cans per minute. The Opsal-Nessler replaced 6 or 7 solderers although the quality of the seam was not entirely satisfactory. The whole thing was quite an event and news of the existence of this machine spread like wildfire throughout the country.


In 1905, Henrik Jørgen Reinert, after 3 years of in which he registered two important patents, launched a revolutionary can seamer, the Reinerts. Manufactured in Stavanger by Forenede Laase & Beslagfabriker, it achieved greater production, quality of seam and reliability than the Opsal, being able to seam between 13 and 17 1/4 club cans per minute.

In 1902, Frederik Racine bought the patent rights from Reinerts and began work on designing a seamer. He died in 1904 and his wife and her two brothers-in-law took over: Cornelius Middlethon and Sigval Bergessen. They created the company C. MIDDLETHON which, in turn, was a pioneer in many developments regarding the manufacture of cans. This company bought all of the rights from Reinerts and began to manufacture the can seamer.

In 1905, Jøhannes Kielland Sømme became the representative for the Reinerts seamer in Spain and Portugal. This event would have a vital role in the future development of non-round can seamers. In 1908, Jøhannes Kielland Sømme reached an agreement with C. Middlethon to start manufacturing the Reinerts seamer under license in Bilbao.


Opsal managed to export more than 70 machines and made improvements that enabled its seamer to technically rival the Reinerts machine. As a result of these improvements, the "Record" model was born, with automatic positioning of the rollers. So, it was the Reinerts machine that got the upper hand. By 1912 they had managed to sell over 600 machines, exporting to Sweden, Denmark, England, Belgium, France, Spain, Portugal, Japan and Brazil. In 1914 the Reinerts machine appeared in a semi-automatic version. There are several anecdotes: In France, several Reinerts machines were destroyed to the cry of "pas de machines" ("No machines") and in Portugal in 1906, Opsal himself had to be escorted out of a factory by bodyguards because they wanted to lynch him.

Subsequently, all Reinerts machines marketed by Middlethon were produced by the branch office of A.S DE FORENEDE NORSKE LAASEOG BESLAGFABRIKERY in Stavanger, later called TRIO FABRIKKER AS. Cornelius Middlethon remained as head of sales and marketing. Shortly afterwards, TRIO launched the 100% automatic Reinerts machine but it did not achieve the same success as the original Reinerts, which carried on being used until the mid-1930s.

In 1950, the number of Reinerts seamers sold reached 1800.

In that same year C. Middelthon agreed to sell all of their rights to TRIO FABRIKKER AS and put an end to 50 years of activity of the company. It was the end of the Reinerts invention and the beginning of a new phase. Other European countries now took over in terms of innovation. During the 20s there had already been automatic machines with three times more capacity than the Reinerts.


In 1928, the French company LUBIN & WEIFFENBACH (Clichy) launched the LUBIN seamer. It had 2 seaming heads, each with 4 seaming rollers. Its great advertising slogan was that it could be operated by anyone and did not need a specialist, as was the case with the Reinerts. Its production was between 30 to 40 1/4 club cans per minute. It was much more advanced than the Reinerts.


In 1930, in an attempt to better its French competitors, the Stavanger company launched the TRIO. It was a seamer that was not as advanced as the Lubin, but it had the advantage of having a lower sales price since it only had one seaming head. Its production was 33 - 41 1/4 club cans per minute.

After the 2nd World War, TRIO MASKININDUSTRI launched the TRIO-B. It was an upgrade of the TRIO, now easier to operate, with a single drive, a new body and other technical improvements. Its production was between 30 and 40 1/4 club cans per minute.

An important innovation in this era was carried out by Trygve Birkeland, an inventor in Stavanger who had the idea for a 100% automatic can feed system which could be installed in both the LUBINs and the TRIOs.


In 1948 the German company LUBECA WERKE GMBH launched a 100% automatic seamer which copied the essential elements of the LUBIN. Its production was 50 - 60 1/4 club cans per minute.

The LW-303 was much more advanced than the TRIO-B and became the first can seamer to incorporate an automatic feed system for cans and lids.


In 1953, TRIO reacted by copying the LW 303 and the TAF 3 was born. It was later updated to the TAF 4 which also achieved success, although not as much as the LW 303.


The company SOMME, SA, founded by the former representative of Reinerts for Spain and Portugal, developed a number of seamer models for both non-round cans (S-312, S-345) and round ones. It was not until 1970 when a seamer which technically surpassed the LW 303 appeared: this was the S-434. This machine incorporated an original rotary pre-clincher to seal cans of different heights and only one head with 4 seaming rollers. The S-444 could close up to 100 1/4 club cans per minute. Later on came the MARINA 424 with its 5 seaming heads capable of seaming up to 200 1/4 club cans per minute.

Currently, SOMME non-round seamers are in operation in 90% of the fish canning factories worldwide, with more than 6000 machines having been manufactured by our family.

To know a little more about the history of the company Somme, click here.

We would like to thank Piers Crocker, curator of the Norwegian Canning Museum in Stavanger for his invaluable help, and invite everyone to visit Stavanger and his museum.