The evolution of fruit or canning jars parallels the science of food preservation, which itself was an attempt to address a critical need. For centuries, rural farmers and the poor struggled to find ways to preserve food for the winter. Soldiers, too, were often left on the battlefields without proper nourishment due to the lack of food-storage solutions. Indeed, in 1809, Napoleon offered 10,000 francs to anyone that could devise a way to ensure that his soldiers scattered across Europe were supplied with fresh food.

Nicholas Appert was up to Napoleon’s challenge—though his invention was a far cry from the Mason fruit jar that came later. Appert devised a means to hermetically seal jars, which are just bottles with wider mouths. The jar would be heated, then vacuum sealed. Interestingly, the heat killed the bacteria in the food product, but at the time people did not know that bacteria was the cause of spoilage.

While Appert’s invention marked progress, it did not help home canners—the process was extremely expensive and difficult. The only options for them was to use tin cans and solder them shut, or to plug their fruit jars—a term used by bottle maker Thomas Dyott—with corks, a practice that dated to the Colonial Era.

The build up to John Mason’s November 30th, 1858, patent for the Mason jar, which ultimately revolutionized food preservation, began with Robert Arthur in 1855. That’s when Arthur introduced a wax seal on a metal jar. These jars or cans, however, could not be reused, were expensive and bulky, and they left food with a metallic taste. Thus, they never caught on, although these Arthur cans are rare and highly collectible today.

Another concurrent method of sealing also included wax poured over a glass jar by the home canner. These jars date to the 1850s and remained popular through 1912, but they were especially difficult to open.

And then, to the rescue, came New Yorker John Mason. The key to the success of his Mason jar was the invention of a machine that could cut a thread into a glass jar’s lip. This made screw-on zinc lids, which improved the jar’s food-preservation capabilities, possible. A rubber ring on the inside surface of the lid completed the seal.

Mason jars were quickly a hit. They were affordable, reusable, and allowed very little moisture to escape. This meant that farmers and other rural residents no longer had to smok...

Crowleytown’s Atlantic Glass Works in Crowleytown, New Jersey, is often credited with producing the first Mason jars, which were embossed with the words “Mason’s Patent Nov. 30th. 1858.” But only a year later, Mason sold that patent and others to The Sheet Metal Screw Company, which was run by Lewis. R. Boyd. Boyd added a milk-glass cover for the zinc lid in order to stop food from contacting the metal. Boyd and Mason later partnered at the Consolidated Fruit Jar Company, which produced countless jars between 1859 and 1910.

In the last half of the 19th century there was a slew of inventions related to home canning. Many of these focused on avoiding metal-food contact. Beginning in 1863, Keystone Glass Works manufactured Kline Stoppers, which used a vacuum seal with a glass stopper. Henry William Putnam introduced the “Lightning jar” in 1882. It used a glass lid with a metal clamp. The clamp solved the problem of vacuum sealing—finally, a jar whose lid was easy to remove.

Soon thereafter, the Ball brothers introduced their Ball jar, which was so popular among consumers—and collectors today—that it became synonymous with “fruit jar” or “Mason jar.” In 1897, Ball invented the semi-automatic glass-making machine, which made jar sizes standard.

While Ball jars were the most widely produced fruit jars, they were not the only ones. In fact, there have been countless fruit jar designs developed in the century and a half since Mason’s innovation. Some of the more memorable ones include Atlas’ E-Z Seal jar, which was a offshoot of the Lightning jar and featured a raised lip. These were manufactured from the end of the 19th century through 1964.

Kerr is another popular brand of fruit jars. In 1903, Alexander H. Kerr opened the Hermetic Fruit Jar Company, producing some of the first wide-mouth jars, which were easy to fill and empty. At first Kerr used a metal lid with a gasket, but by 1915 he had introduced a way to make these jars reusable.

After World War II, home canning fell out of fashion, although the jars themselves became increasingly popular among collectors. Clear and aqua jars are the most readily available, while colors such as greens, amber, milk, and blue are scarcer and more sought after.

For collectors, dating a jar can be difficult. There are some clues, however. For example, if a jar has a pontil mark, then it likely predates the Civil War. Jars with mold seams, evidence of being machine-made, are post-1895, while the side seams on jars began to disappear around 1915. Purple jars (the color is the result of sun exposure to the manganese dioxide in the glass) were made prior to World War I because during the war manganese dioxide, which was scarce, was replaced by selenium.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Historic Glass Bottle Identification

Historic Glass Bottle Identification

Bill Lindsey's fantastic bottle identification and information site. Loaded with detailed descriptions and diagrams… [read review or visit site]

Feeding America

Feeding America

This archive of 76 influential American cookbooks from the late 1700s to early 1900s, assembled by the Michigan St… [read review or visit site]

Antique Bottle Collector's Haven

Antique Bottle Collector's Haven

There's a ton of information here, but as with bottles, you have to dig to find the best stuff. Start with the famo… [read review or visit site]

Tupper Diva

Tupper Diva

Kristian McManus’ fresh, airtight collection of Tupperware catalogs and related ephemera from the 1950s and 6… [read review or visit site]

Bottle Cap Index

Bottle Cap Index

Assembled by Gunther Rademacher with the help of several other contributors, this collection of over half a million… [read review or visit site]

Norbert Lamping's collection of 600+ ceramic bottle stoppers, Hutter stoppers, swingtops, swivel stoppers, and ligh… [read review or visit site]

Old Spice Collectibles

Old Spice Collectibles

Lather up with Creighton Fricek's complete chronology of collectible Old Spice shaving products. Start with the bot… [read review or visit site]

Clubs & Associations

Discussion Forums

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Super Tough Woodbury Sterilizer Complete & All Original Fruit Jar / NurserGreat 1800's Pontil Air-tight Quart Fruit JarLot Of 12 Vintage Ball 1 Quart Blue Aqua Perfect Mason Canning Jars Zinc Lids Color! Antique Primitive Yellow-amber Old Quart Wax Sealer F.c.g. Co. Fruit JarSun Quart Complete & All Original Fruit JarAntique Pure Green Crown Fruit Jar Character Galore! Wild Amber Streak Color!!!!Antique Wooden Crate Wood Box "boyd's Porcelain Lined Fruit Jar Co" Heavy PatinaStraw Color Ball Perfect Mason Jar Canning Fruit Jar Color!! Mint ConditionRare Antique Aqua Beehive 1 Quart Fruit Canning Jar Sealer Lafayette Fruit Jar With Top 1884Antique Fruit Jar The Mason Jar Of 1872 Aqua Ground Lip Best Example Crude!Amber Masons Patent Nov 30 1858 Fruit Jar Unusual Mold Line In Glass Quart Fruit Jar, Rb 2957, Whitall, Tatum Co., Half Gallon, Clear4 Piece Mason Jar Porcelain Measuring Spoons BlueE1900's Swayzee Ind. Indiana Glass Mason Patent Fruit Jar Bottle Wood Crate EndYellow Amber Trade Mark Lightning Whittled Canning Fruit Jar Vintage Antique OldThe "masons" Improved Canning Jar Half Gallon Amber Fruit Vtg Old Antique Crescent Moon Star And Sun Zinc Lid For Mason Jars!! Exceptionally Rare Lid!1890s Painted Glass Flaccus Bros Steers Head West Virginia Fruit Jar Bottle W.v.Hammer Whittled "keystone" Improved Quart Fruit JarAntique Red Wing Union Stoneware Stone Mason Fruit Jar Quart SizeWaterford Crystal Jam Jelly Jar With Notched Lid, Signed Waterford, StickerH K Mulford Chemist Philadelphia Pa Amber Medicine Fruit Jar Orig Label AntiqueFruit Jar, Rb 1934, Mason's (gc Co) Patent Nov. 30th 1858, Lt Apple Green, PintFruit Jar, Rb 2131, "mason" Patent Nov. 30th 1880, Half Gallon, ClearVintage Zinc Lids Box Of 12 Nos Ball Mason Jar Amber Trade Mark Lightning Putnam Fruit Jar 1800's Half Gallon SizeVintage Blue Perfect Mason Ball Fruit Canning Jar Lot Of 3 Half GallonBall Mason (error) JarNice Topaz Colored Half Pint Ball Perfect Mason "#9" 1920's Era Clean L@@kScarce Mason's Midget Fruit Jar. R.b. # 1833-1A P Donaghho Salt Glaze Crock Parkersburg Wv Canning Jar Lotsa Seed Bubbles Globe Amber Qt Complete & All Original Fruit JarOld 1800's-beautiful Amber Color-globe Pint Fruit JarFruit Jar, Rb 1242, The Hero, Half Gallon, AquaLot Of Fruit Jar Lid Metal Parts For Mason Canning JarRag Monogram-ground Lip Fruit Jar-ruth A. Gilchrist-aqua QuartVery Nice Purple Colored Drey Mason 1/2 Gallon Size 1910's Era Clean L@@kMasons Patent Nov. 30th 58 Christmas Fruit Jar, Rb #1780 Pint AquaBall Zinc Canning Jar Lids, Original Boxes, Some Never Used, White Milkglass Jars Mason Ball Blue Canning Vintage Lids Quart Perfect Pint Lot With Glass JarBlue Ball Jar Half Pint #4Rare The Gem Mason Fruit Jars For Sale Baltimore Md 1888 Postcard Swindell VtgOld Mason's Pint Fruit Jar The Ball Jar Patent Nov 30 1858 Blue Green RareAntique Red Wing Raspberry Preserves Jam Jelly Jar Bottle Fredonia Ny VintageScarce Vintage Knox Mason Half Pint JarLot Of 18 Vintage Glass Lids For Mason Jars. Lightning, Crasselli, Hazel Atlas,Fruit Jar, Rb 641, Columbia, Pint, ClearNice Purple Colored Drey Perfect Mason 1/2 Gallon Size 1920's Era Clean L@@kAntique Fruit Jar The Victor Pat Feb 20th 1900 Small Lip Chip No Lid Neat!Vintage # 13 Blue Ball Perfect Mason Half Gallon Canning Fruit Jar # 13Fine Little Antique Glass Ground Lip Midget Pint Mason's Hfjco Cross Fruit Jar25) Late1800s-early1900s Miscellaneous Fruit Jar Bottle Glass Lids Stopper CoverRare Ball Mason's Patent Quart Fruit Jars Wood Shipping Box,Blue Ball Jar Half Pint #8Ball Mason's Patent Nov 30th 1858 Aqua Half Gallon Canning Fruit Jar Antique VtgMason's Hero Cross Patent 1858 Canning Fruit Jar 1867 Pat Date Antique VintageVery Nice Purple Colored Mason's Patent 1858. Quart Size 1910's Era Clean L@@kOld 1800's-solid-cfjco. Midget Pint Lid For Fruit JarNice Topaz Colored Drey Perfect Mason Pint Size 1920's Era Clean L@@k

Recent News: Fruit Jars

Source: Google News

Farms Finest: Mason jars preserve food and American history
Aspen Times, October 19th

In 1903, Alexander Kerr founded the Hermetic Fruit Jar Co.. These jars were the first commercial, wide-mouth, economy-priced jars with a permanently attached gasket making them cheap, fast and easy to use. Then, in 1915, Kerr invented a simple one...Read more

Homegrown means homemade goodness from the kitchen, October 14th

Havin' a big time on the bayou. Jambalaya, a-crawfish pie and-a file gumbo 'Cause tonight I'm gonna see my ma cher amio Pick guitar, fill fruit jar and be gay-oh Son of a gun... Mario's tasty pasta dish is as close as your kitchen. I love watching "The...Read more

Skyline R-II School Foundation Impromptu Board Meeting
Douglas County Herald, October 3rd

Meanwhile the kids are 'making do' and there is a fruit jar on the counter at Henson's store ready for donations. Donations can also be made in person at the school or by mail to the Skyline R2 School Foundation, Rt. 72 Box 486, Norwood, MO 65717...Read more

Highland Community News (subscription), September 25th

I recall my father plowing with a horse and large plow, and I would sometimes take him a fruit jar of water from a nearby well. The economy improved and we moved into a garage upstairs apartment when I was in the second grade, and my father got a...Read more

BURNS: Burns Senior Center
Peabody Gazette-Bulletin, September 17th

an old quilt started in 1939 and finished when the seamstress was 80 years old, a picture of a wooden tractor built by a son, a lamp made of a fruit jar with pictures and keepsakes in it, a 1910 autograph book and old Catholic prayer books, a couple of...Read more