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Glad You Asked: Why is a bottle opener called a church key?

Glad You Asked: Why is a bottle opener called a church key?

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Why do they call a bottle opener a church key?

We posed this question in GYA on Wednesday.

Austin Potrikus sent us an answer to this question. It's displayed prominently at, which is the Web site for Just for Openers, an international organization of those who collect bottle openers and related breweriana.

Our thanks goes to, article author Don Bull and Potrikus for their help. They provided the words and explanation.

"In the Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins by William and Mary Morris, they explain the term "Church Key" as follows: "When I passed on through my newspaper column a question from a Maryland reader about why "the tool that punches a triangular hole in a beer can is called a church key," I received lots of explanations. Included was one amusing script - virtually a one-act play - purporting to prove that the name was coined by a pair of hung-over acolytes.

But then I had an explanation from - where else - Milwaukee, the beer capital of the world. It seems so authentic that all other theories may now be put aside. For one thing, Mr. J. R. Oberhofer, an old-time brewery worker, pointed out that the expression "church key" is much older than the device that leaves a triangular hole in beer cans.

Indeed, it goes back to early days of the brewing business, when beer was first dispensed in bottles. "The expression 'church key' is old in the brewing business," he wrote. "I worked in a brewery for about 35 years and everybody carried a bottle opener or church key, perhaps so called because it looked like the top end of the kind of heavy ornate key used to unlock church doors.

I am enclosing an old relic that is about 50 years old. It's made of cast iron and from its weight and appearance, you can see its resemblance to a church door key. With the coming of cans in the brewing business, the bottle opener gave way to the can opener that makes the triangular marks - but the name 'church key' was simply transferred to the new device."

Mr. Oberhofer actually did send the cast iron bottle opener, and the evidence seems to me entirely persuasive. Thanks to him for settling a question that has puzzled me for many a year."

According to Just For Openers Oberhofer worked at the A. Gettleman Brewing Company and Miller Brewing.

There's also an extensive explanation of the church key's alleged origins at Wikipedia. Check it at

Whatever happened to the Buffalo Braves and Chicago Zephyrs?

Ask the Los Angeles Clippers and Washington Wizards.

The Braves and Zephyrs are obscure former professional sports teams, cast aside on a growing pile with the St. Louis Hawks, Kansas City Kings, Milwaukee Does and Seattle Pilots.

The Braves joined the NBA in 1970 with the Cleveland Cavaliers and Portland Trail Blazers. The team spent eight years in Buffalo before moving to San Diego in 1978.

In 1984 the franchise moved to Los Angeles, retained the name "Clippers" and continued cursing us all with lousy basketball.

Forwards Bob McAdoo and Adrian Dantley are players most associated with Buffalo - Dantley played for the Bucks at the end of his career.

It's believed the Chicago Zephyrs once conducted pre-season training at Burlington High School back in the early 1960s. That would be at the building now known as Karcher Middle School in Burlington.

The Zephyrs started life in the 1961-62 season as the Packers. They changed to the Zephyrs for the 1962-63 season before moving east and becoming the Baltimore Bullets.

The franchise played as the Capital Bullets in 1973-74 and played as the Washington Bullets from 1974-1997. The Bullets became the Wizards in 1997, because Washington, D.C., is where the magic happens.

Racine's own Caron Butler plays for the Wizards. The Milwaukee Bucks swept the Washington Bullets in four games to win the 1971 NBA championship. And former Bucks and current Golden State Warriors coach Don Nelson played for the Zephyrs.

Wes Unseld and Moses Malone are famous names in Washington basketball history.

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