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.
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Tea and Talk to look at Muncie historyMuncie Star Press, March 24th
Participants can enjoy tea and snacks with friends and hear resident fruit jar and bottle expert Dick Cole talk about the Gas Boom, the Ball jar, and their continuing legacy in the community. Cost is $15. Member discounts apply. Information: www...Read more
Muncie industry had a huge impact here - and beyondMuncie Star Press, March 20th
The brothers were — no pun intended — canny, so when the patent for the Mason screw-top fruit jar expired in 1884, they began making their own fruit jars. They quickly renamed their venture Ball Brothers Glass Manufacturing Company and brought their ...Read more
Stickball, caps and snow ball fights: Games people playedCommunities Digital News, March 13th
Parents would sit out on the porch and watch the children catching fireflies (sometimes called lighting bugs). We would get a fruit jar and punch holes in the lid and then go on the hunt for the ever-evasive bug. At the end of the evening, the bugs...Read more
The View from Writers RoostGilmer Mirror, March 12th
While Dad never hunted that I knew of and only fished by trotline with a group of friends whose “catches” consisted equally of giant catfish and some clear liquid in a Mason fruit jar, some of his pals did hunt and, on occasion, the Webb brothers and...Read more
Contest winner catches lightning in bottleOconee Enterprise, March 11th
Brensen was the winner of the annual contest managed by the Oconee County Chamber of Commerce that selects a poster designed by a high school student. Brensen interpreted the theme of “The Oconee Experience” with a fruit jar full of lightning bugs...Read more
Tea & Talk at Minnetrista: Our Golden AgeMuncie Voice (blog), March 11th
“Listen as resident fruit jar and bottle expert Dick Cole will talk about the Gas Boom, the Ball jar, and how their legacy is still shaping our community today.” said Schroer. Join old and new friends for the perfect opportunity to look back at the...Read more
Muncie Fruit Jar Show & Get TogetherMuncie Voice, January 5th
The Muncie Fruit Jar Shows are well-known for the amazing and rare items brought for sale, for the outstanding educational collector-displays exhibited during the show, as well as for the great group of jar enthusiasts who treat this multi-day event...Read more
Fruit Jar TournamentBassResource.com (press release), March 12th
Saturday we had a small fruit jar tournament at a local lake here in Arkansas. it was a cool start at 37 degrees but you could not ask for a better day. calm wind and sunny was not long and we were shedding clothes. I know this lake pretty well so the...Read more