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A Picnic In The Park Leads to Pop-Top Can

This article appeared in the Dayton Daily News on December 23, 2000


Thank Ermal Fraze next time you pop open a cold one

By Roz Young

            TOWARD THE END OF THE summer of 1942, a group of engineers and tool designers had been working 12-hour days designing tools and special machinery to fill the orders for war-related orders. They worked in a two-story building at the Johnson Tool and Engineering Co., on the north side of East Fifth Street between June and Ringgold streets.
            In 1942 the United States was at war with Japan, Germany and Italy, and Britain was fighting for survival.
            In Dayton, crowds filled the downtown streets as shoppers pushed through Rike's, Elder's, the Home Store, Adler's, the five-and-dime stores on Main Street next to Elder's and the Banner Bazaar. On Saturdays the sidewalks were shoulder to shoulder with people and the street markets around the library and the market house were well patronized.
            On Sundays not a store opened, and downtown slept in feverish peace.
            Bernard Wahrer, who now lives on Gardenview Avenue in Beavercreek, was working at the tool and engineering company. `Let's take a break and have a picnic,' somebody suggested, and about 25 of the men enthusiastically agreed that it would be a good idea.
            `Where we will go?' somebody asked.
            `How about Triangle Park?'
            `What'll we have for food?' somebody asked.
            The men voted for meat-loaf sandwiches on rye bread and plenty of beer.
            At 7 p.m. on a Friday evening, two dozen cars took off from the Johnson Tool parking lot. The men picked up the sandwiches they had ordered at a tavern on the corner of East Fifth and Samuel streets. They took several cases of iced beer and drove out to the Triangle parking lot off Embury Park Road.
            It was near dark. The parking lot was open, but alas, they found the park closed.
            A lone light hung from a cord on a pole near the storage shed where the picnic tables were stored. The men gathered under the light. `Looks like we'll just have to have our picnic here,' said Ermal Fraze, the leading engineer in Wahrer's group.
            As they were unloading their sandwiches and beer, a park guard appeared. The guard observed the picnic preparations and opened up the storage shed. The men pulled out several picnic tables and set out the sandwiches and the beer. They invited the park guard to join them, and they all sat down for feasting, drinking and talking.
            `Who's got a bottle opener?' Fraze asked.
            Nobody had thought to bring one.
            Harry McMillion had driven his coupe to the picnic. One of the men eyed his split steel front bumper. `I think that would do,' he said. He walked to the car, hooked the bottle top on the bumper and pulled. The bottle top came off.
            `Hey!' McMillion said, `you guys be careful you don't scratch my bumper!'
            `We sat around the picnic tables under that lone light,' Wahrer reminisced in his letter from which this story is taken, `drinking beer and eating meat-loaf sandwiches, joke-telling, guy talk, and some serious talk about the war, how to design a bowling pin setting machine and should there be a better way to open bottles and cans without having to use an opener.
            `Now more than half a century later, every time I pull the tab on a can of beer and hear a click and a hiss, I think of Ermal Fraze and the party at the Triangle parking lot under that lone light in the late summer of 1942.'
            Fraze invented the pop-top can opener in 1965. He is gone now, as are most of the men who picnicked that night under the lone light bulb in the Triangle Park parking lot. Crowds who flock in the summers to the Fraze Pavilion for the Performing Arts may not remember Ermal Fraze, but his name will remain for a long time in the community