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    

Red Wing Union Stoneware Mason Jar, 1 Gallon, Crock, Jug, Churn, Minty!!Amber 1892 Peerless Brand Grocers Mason Fruit JarRed Wing Union Stoneware Mason Jar, 1 Quart, Crock, Jug, Churn, Flawless!!Red Wing Union Stoneware Mason Jar, 1/2 Gallon, Crock, Jug, Churn, Minty!!All Original 1880s Citron Mason 1858 Fruit JarLightning Fruit Jar Yellow/amber Pint Putnam Rb9 #1489 Whittled!Antique Red Wing Union Stoneware, Mn Mason Fruit Canning Jar Lid PintMidget Pint Tudor Rose Zinc Lug Lid Porcelain Lined Cap For Mason Fruit Jar MoreOriginal 1880s Olive Green Mason Patent 1858 Fruit JarVintage Millville Atmospheric Fruit Jar - 8" Tall - Original Clamp And Lid Vg11 Vintage Ball Zinc Wide Mouth Porcelain Lined Mason Jar Lids Lot Old AntiqueAntique Bee Hive Half Quart Fruit JarAntique 19th C Southern Nc Primitive Alkaline Glazed Stoneware Canning Jar YqzNicely Marked Vintage Moon & Star Fruit Canning Jar Zinc Lid Regualr Size OldRed Key Mason Pint Fruit Jar Green Aqua Antique Old Pictorial Jar Skeleton KeyAntique Red Wing Stoneware Potteries Applesauce Canning Jar Crock 3 Gallon VtgBloeser Antique Fruit Jar 1887 Bloeser Fruit Jar Glass Lid One Qt Metal ClosureSafety Valve Jar Greek Key Antique Fruit Canning JarEarly Straight-sided Stoneware Canning Jar / Cobalt Stripe Decoration / Aafa Nr2 Antique Fruit Canning Jar Clamps Millville + Another UnknownLightning Putnam Half Pint Ice Green Bail Top Canning Fruit Jar Ground Rim Lot Of 2 Antique Canning Jars Trade Mark Lightning No. 592 And No. 35Vintage Orange Pineapple Milk Glass Jam Jelly Jar Hazel Atlas 1930s 1940s Rare Antique 1 Gallon Mason Fruit Jar Crock Union Stone Ware Co. Red WingLight Apple Green Mason's Patent Nov. 30th 1858Antique Star #6 Fruit JarScarce Half Gallon Improved Everlasting Mason Fruit JarTwo Mason's Patents With Reverse Hour Glass And Hgw Fruit JarsAntique The Darling Aqua Half Quart Fruit JarPint Aqua Cohansey On Base With Slug Plate For Label JarAntique Zinc Boyd Cap Mason Jar CoverAafa Vintage Halloween Pumpkin Jack O Lantern Seed Pack Glass Ball Mason Jar(8) Antique 2 3/4" Miniature Ball Perfect Mason Fruit Jars W/ Zinc Lids18th Century Black Glass Snuff Jar. Early Blown Glass Snuff BottleBlue Ball Perfect Mason 1/2 Pint Fruit Jar W/lid - Great Condition - #3Lightning Fruit Jar Amber Quart Putnam Rb9 Jar #1489Woodburry Monogram Fruit Jar With Lid And Clamp Quart SizeDoolittle Antique Pint Fruit Canning Jar W/ Original Embossed Lid And Closure Mason Jar Of 1872, Fruit Jar, Agua, 1/2 Gallon Nice Whittled ** Excelsoir Improved ** 1 Quart Fruit Jar & Correct Rare LidIllinois Glass Co. Igco" Mason's Patent Nov 30th 1858 Half Gallon Fruit Jar 1/2 Midget Pint Fruit Jar Rb9 #1787 Mason's Patent Nov 30th 1858 Clear - ScaMidget Pint Fruit Jar Rb9 #2029 Mason's 2 Patent Nov 30th 1858 Scarce Numbered!Late 19thc Whitall + Tatum Glass Museum Specimen Jar W Orig Sheeps Wool ContentsBall Mason's Patent 1858 Lightly Whittled Pint Canning Fruit Jar Port Remake Old10 Zinc Ring Lids With Ball Inserts For Ball Glass Insert Canning Fruit JarsEureka #10 Pat D Dec 27th 1964 Fruit Jar, Excellent Condition. True Fruit Antique Fruit Canning Jar Half Gallon ClearAntique The Darling Imperial Gallon Fruit JarMason's Igco Patent Quart Fruit Jar With Stamped Moon And Star CapCrisp Clear ** Beaver ** Midget Pint Fruit JarVintage Blue Aqua Canning Jar - The PearlFruit Jar Lid W/ Monogram - W T Co - Aqua - 2 1/8 X 3/4" - Plug TypeAntique The Darling Imperial Quart Fruit JarAntique Ball Mason Fruit Jar Lids Wooden Shipping Box Country Store CollectableRare 1/2 Gallon Globe Fruit/canning Jar/with Glass Enclosure Light Green ErrorRare Green Drey Perfect Mason Fruit Jar !!!Amethyst Whittled ** Beaver ** * 1 Quart Fruit Jar Magnificent 7 Bogue Peter Sarsgaard Screen Used Mason Jar Of Dirt & Deed Set Sc9Mason's N Patent Nov. 30th 1858 W/ The Ball Jar On Reverse - Pint Aqua Fruit Jar