I have a press release here that says today is the 50th anniversary of the beer can.

Thanks a lot.

My father was born before airplanes or TV or even radio, and I used to think, My God, that is old. That is an old guy.

Now I see I was born before the beer can.

I thought beer cans went back to when guys in bowler hats brought their suds home from the saloon in little tin buckets. In fact, that was how it got the name suds: It looked just like a bucket of extremely soapy water. I thought they just welded a top on the bucket so they could take it in to watch John L. Sullivan fight Gentleman Jim Corbett, and that was the first beer can.

Not at all, according to the Can Manufacturers Institute.

On Jan. 24, 1935, the Kreuger Brewing Co. sold the first canned beer to the parched people of Richmond.

Since that historic day, 610 billion beer cans have been produced, though through the years the changes, the Institute avers, have been enormous. Quart cans started in 1937, 16-ouncers in 1954. Ring-pulls came in 1962 (Iron City Beer, Pittsburgh), and the sleek modern conservation-wise nondetachable (except when it breaks off in your hand) pull-top was introduced in 1975.

Those are the Institute's milestones. They are not mine.

The first beer can I personally handled was painted olive drab because it was made for the troops in World War II. From Pearl Harbor on, all 2 billion cans produced during the war went to servicemen abroad, and people were worried that The Enemy might sight a gun on the glint off a can of Bud.

A friend of mine's big brother brought one back from Tarawa. We could touch it but not open it. The theory was it would be valuable some day.

Around 1945 my cousin John Rudd began carrying a church key on his belt. You didn't want to brush past him too closely because he wore the sharp end sticking out like a torn car fender.

The first time I managed to crush a beer can with one hand was at a party on Lake Moraine in August 1947. Cans were a lot stronger then. Aluminum didn't come in until '58.

On Christmas Eve 1959, assembling a toy garage, I looked at the unpainted underside and discovered it was made from Miller High Life cans. All the way from Japan.

For the Institute, the big news of 1970 was the founding of the Beer Can Collectors of America. For me it was the story that divers on an ocean-bed archeological dig off Mexico came up with several rusty ring-pulls, causing a wave of editorials about how we were littering the planet with the things. Little girls made them into necklaces, too, as I recall.

Today the beer can is part of the basic costume of country-and-western macho. Right up there with the dangling cigarette. A cowboy can get as much emotion out of a beer can in the fist as John Garfield ever got out of a cigarette. You can carry one in the breast pocket of your denim jacket if you don't mind the cold.

In every sense of the word, the beer can is part of the American landscape. And after only 50 years.

You expect me to cheer? An old geezer like me?