P-38: An Ultralight Jack-of-all-trades

P38_canopenerA comment from Mattexian on a recent blog post of mine (Something I Never Hike Without) reminded me of one of my favorite little gadgets that I take for granted, the U.S. ARMY issue P-38 Can opener. I've carried one of these on every set of keys that I have had for as far back as I can remember and I've given away dozens of them to friends and family.

Whomever said the government can't make good products was wrong.  For just about everything else it’s true they do suck, but not the P-38. This little can opener let millions of GIs crack open their C-rations, not to mention the dozens of other uses they found for it in the field.

The "P" stands for puncture and the “-38” is said to stand for how may times it took to go around the C-ration can.  The hole in the top of the P-38 was used to put it on a chain or string so that it could be dipped into boiling water to clean it after use.  Form and functionality at work.

This 1-inch stamped metal tool was developed in only 30 days in the summer of 1942 by the Subsistence Research Laboratory of Chicago.  One that I have had for over 20 years now has the words “US Mallin Shelby” stamped on it, designating it as an original Vietnam era version made by Mallin Howe Shelby of Ohio.

In his comment Mattexian referred to it as "my little talisman of preparedness, as it works as designed as a can opener, but also flathead screwdriver (as well as Phillips, if you use the corner), fingernail cleaner, paint scraper, awl, and many more uses".   He also had a great little carry tip - "It fits right on a set of dog tags, though I wrapped some electrical tape around it to keep it from popping open and jabbing me".

Thanks for reminding me just how amazing the P-38 is!

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