Ermal "Ernie" Fraze was born in 1913 in Indiana. He eventually moved to Ohio, where he embarked upon a career as a machine tool operator during the 1940s. In 1949, he formed his own machine tool business, the Dayton Reliable Tool Company, in Dayton, Ohio. This firm manufactured tools and machinery for various industries. Among Fraze's clients were General Electric, Ford, Chrysler, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. To improve his business acumen, Fraze also enrolled and graduated from the General Motors Institute, modern-day Kettering University, in Flint, Michigan.
In 1959, Fraze decided to invent an improved beverage can. The current design required people to purchase a separate opener to access the beverage. One day at a picnic, Fraze forgot his "church key," the name for the opener, and had to use a car bumper to open drinks for himself and his guests. Later this same year, Fraze developed a can with the opener, a lever, attached. Unfortunately, this design produced a sharp opening, sometimes injuring the drinkers. Soon thereafter, Fraze developed a can, known as the "pull-top" can, where the user only had to pull a removable tab to access the drink. Although Fraze did not receive a patent for his invention until October 31, 1967, over seventy-five percent of beer brewers in the United States of America had adopted Fraze's can by 1965. The first company to utilize Fraze's design was the Pittsburgh Brewing Company in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Fraze's pull-top can proved to be a major improvement in beverage packaging, allowing drinkers quick and easy access to their drink. Unfortunately, pull-top cans increased litter in the United States, as many users simply threw the tab onto the ground. Other drinkers injured themselves by placing the tab inside of the can and then swallowing or cutting themselves on the tab when they drank. To solve these issues, in 1977, Fraze patented the first push-in and fold-back tab. This tab remained attached to the can, and it is the principal design still used on canned beverages today. By 1980, Fraze's new tab design and machinery to manufacture the can was earning the Dayton Reliable Tool Company, known by this time as the Dayton Reliable Tool and Manufacturing Company, Inc., over 500 million dollars per year.
Fraze died from a brain tumor in 1989. Soon thereafter, Fraze's heirs sold the Dayton Reliable Tool and Manufacturing Company, Inc., to the business's managers. It remains in operation in Dayton today.