I received a P-38 can opener some time during my seventh grade of school. I can’t remember exactly why they were given to us (I think my whole class got one, but I’m not sure), nor can I remember exactly why my adolescent self hung on to the little thing. I certainly wasn’t opening cans of beans with any regularity. Nonetheless, I kept it on my keyring, and it’s on my keyring even today. It has, without any doubt, been the single most useful gadget I’ve ever owned.
The P-38 is almost amazingly bad at its core function. It’s hard to open canned goods with the thing. It’s time consuming, laborious, and frankly hardly worth the effort (at least in modern society: things might be different were I deployed in some remote war zone). It just barely ekes by as a can opener. And yet it remains an amazingly useful general purpose tool for me.
I use the P-38 regularly to open packages. It slices through tape just fine. In a pinch, it can open the horrible plastic shells that encase many modern goods. It serves as a fine flat blade screwdriver, a small pry bar, and a straightedge. I think I’ve opened a total of four cans with it in my life, each time just to see or prove if it could, in fact, open a can.
In this age of electronic marvels, I like to think about my P-38 every now and again. I know that a manually operated can opener hardly qualifies as a “gadget” alongside the things we normally write about, but it’s fun to think about the utility — intended and unintended — of the P-38 in the context of those other things: iPads, smart phones, computers, and more.
There’s a Wikipedia page on the P-38 that delves into some more of the details. The P-38 was standard issue for the U.S. Army, which provides me the tenuous connection to this Memorial Day holiday we’re all celebrating today in the U.S!