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]

Plopsite.de

Plopsite.de

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    

Quart Aqua Fruit Jar Royal Of 1876 With Closure Red Book # 2515 Rare The Van Vliet Jar Of 1881 With Closure Red Book #2878 Crude Early " Beehive" Era Numbered 2 Mason's Patent Midget Pint Fruit JarAntique Fruit Jar ~ Pint Globe W Closure And TopUnion Glass Fruit JarAntique Cobalt Blue Decorated Salt Glazed Stoneware Canning Crock Jar AafaLot (2) Green - Amber - Blue - Olive - Citron Fruit Jars 1 Qt QuartHemingray Glass Co Masons 1858 Quart Canning Fruit Jar Hgco Antique VintageRed Wing Redwing Stoneware Mason Fruit JarPurple Amethyst Sca Ball Square Mason Pint Canning Fruit Jar Beautiful VintageVintage Mason Patented Nov 30th 1858 Golden Amber Quart Jar Zinc LidMason Cfj Pint, Straight Sided Fruit Jar, RareMason 1858 Midget Glass Fruit JarAntique Coffeyville Kansas Premium Mason Jar W/ Lid & Bail 1/2 Pint"mason's Kgbco Patent Nov 30th 1858" Quart Sca W/zinc Lid Red Book #1958Antique The Canton Domestic Fruit Jar 2 Quart W/ Original Lid Nice!Favorite (script) Aqua Qt. Smooth Lip, Glass Lid And Screw BandAntique Clear Beaver Quart Canning Preserve JarVintage Millville June 18th 1861 Fruit JarAntique Aqua Beaver Canning Quart Fruit JarOld Vintage Cohansey 5" Embossed Aque Glass Fruit Mason Canning Jar Bubbles WavyAll Right Aqua Qt. Ground Lip, Metal Dome, Wire Clamp DeviceOld, Original Half Pint Ball Blue Perfect Mason With Rubber Seal.Ball Mason Green With Light Amber Half Gallon Glass Fruit Jar Red Book # 234Amber Half Gallon Globe Fruit Mason Canning JarOld Aqua Quart Wax Sealer Pittsburg Pa. Dictator Fruit Jar Bottle Pet Aqua Qt. Smooth Lip, Glass Lid,spring Wire Clamp With Coil1882 Patent Putnam Lightning Amber Mason Jar W/ Original Lid 1 Qt. Nice!Half Gallon Early Ball Mason's N Patent Nov. 30 1858 Jar ~ Whittled And Crude !Uniquely Crude Old Square Shaped Vintage/antique Ball Perfect Mason Canning JarBall Mason's Fruit Jar Quart Aqua First Ball Script Logo 1895-1896Rare! Honey Olive Amber Ball Perfect Mason Quart Jar Rb #274 Base:#6 C1915-1923Deep Yellow Olive Green Ball Perfect Mason Quart Jar Rb #274 Base:#5 C1915-1923Antique Millville Atmospheric Aqua Qt Fruit JarMission Trade Mark Mason Jar Made In California Half Pint Aqua JarRare Half Pint 1/2 Blue Ball Perfect Mason Jar #5 With Zinc Lid!!!Rare Half Pint 1/2 Blue Ball Perfect Mason Jar #9 With Zinc Lid!!!Rare Half Pint 1/2 Blue Ball Perfect Mason Jar #7 With Zinc Lid!!!Three Special Wide Mouth Blue Pint Mason Jars #1#2#3 With Zinc LidsRare Vtg #13 Aqua Blue Ball Perfect Mason Pint Canning Jar W Zinc LidAntique 19th C Stoneware Decorated Pennsylvania Small Canning Jar Crock 8 1/2"Millville Atmospheric Fruit Jar Whitall's Patent 1861 Lid Clamp Bubbles AntiqueVery Rare!!! Antique Olive "green" White Crown Mason Quart Jar Glass Vtg CanningRare 1915-1923 Olive Green Ball Perfect Mason Quart Jar #1 With Zinc Ball LidAntique Stoneware: Red Wing Union "mason Fruit Jar" W/ Cobalt, Mn, Pat. Jan 1899Nice Scarce Ball 3l Qt Mason Strong Olive Green & Lt. Amber Swirls Rb #234 1900Fruitkeeper (gcco Monogram) Aqua Qt. Ground Lip, Glass Lid, Wire Clamp Device20 Vintage, Antique "ball" Blue Pint Mason JarsPrincess Fruit Jar PintVintage Aqua Blue 1/2 Pt Ball Perfect Mason Canning Jar With Zinc Cap #5Deep Yellow Olive Green Ball Perfect Mason Pint Jar Rb #274 Base:#4 C1915-1923Vintage 1915-1923 Olive Green Ball Perfect Mason Quart Jar #4 With Zinc Ball LidVintage Delco-light Exide Aqua Green Glass Battery Jar Kxg 7 536 Vintage Glass Canning Jar Inserts Cap Lid Hero Cross Masons Improved JeanetteWoodbury Wgw (monogram) Aqua Qt. Ground Lip, Glass Lid With Vent HoleRare Texas Mason Pint Fruit Canning Jar 2 - Lucky #13 Blue Ball Perfect Mason Half Gallon & Quart #8 Canning Jars LidRare! Swayzee's Olive Green Improved Mason Qt Jar Shoulder Seal Rb#2780-1 C.1900Fruit Jars AntiqueKnowlton Vacuum "star" Fruit Jar Quart Complete