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    

Beautiful Western Dug Mason's Fruit Jar- Light AmberPristine Mint! Light Citron Color, Qt. Mason's Patent Nov 30 1858. Gr. Lip BeautVery Rare Antique S & S Hutchinson Egg Beater Mayonnaise Glass Mixer No ReserveAqua Quart Peerless Fruit Canning Jar!Antique 1877 Cohansey Blue Barrel Fruit Jar (3) Antique Iron Clamp Closures For Whitall's Millville Or Moore Fruit JarsCornflower Blue Pint H.w. Pettit Westville, N.j. (on Base) Fruit Canning Jar!Vintage Collectable Blue Half Pint Ball Perfect Mason Jar Logo #5 With Zinc Lid Star Glass Co. New Albany, Ind. - Half Gallon, Aqua Fruit JarAqua Quart Tillyer Reverse: Erased Winslow Jar Fruit Jar, Canning Jar!The Leader - Quart, Amber Fruit JarBeautiful Red Orange Amber Antique Trade Mark Lightning Ground Lip Fruit JarScarce Ball Brothers Style Midget Size Zinc Canning Fruit Jar BandPristine! S & P (stickney & Poor)- Oversize Peppersauce. Drip-lip BeautRare Baby Blue 1 Pint Shoulder Seal, Mason Fruit Jar Canning Jar, Zinc Lid Unlined Zinc Std Size Canning Fruit Jar Lid With Vertical Lug Stamped....Quart Olive Amber Ball Perfect Mason JarGlobe Amber Fruit Canning Jar 3 2 Or S On Bottom Vintage Glass CollectibleMason's Patent Nov. 30th 1858 With Milky Swirls 1/2 Half Gallon JarMillville Atmospheric Whitall's Patent Antique Quart Size Fruit Canning Jar The Pearl Fruit Jar Quart ClearVintage Old Ball Square Mason Pint Canning Fruit Jar With Ball Zinc LidRare 1 Qt. " The Ball Mason's Patent Nov. 30th 1858 " Shoulder Seal Canning Jar,Clear Half Pint Safety Valve Patd May 21 1895 Hc Fruit Jar, Canning Jar!Rare Amber Trademark Lightning Hg Patd Jan 5 75 Reisd June 5 77 Patd Apr 25 82 Light Blue Quart Fruit Jar "kerr Self Sealing Mason"Rare Fruit Jar Emb. Mason Improved A.b.g.a.Wax Sealer Fruit Jar Amethyst Rau's Improved Groove Ring Jar Quart Fairmount InSailor Moon Q-pot Mason Jar Princess Serenity 1890's Rb#1109 Gilchrist Monogram Quart Fruit Jar Bottle W/ Matching Zinc LidAqua Quart Peereess (error) Fruit Jar, Canning Jar!Rare Millville Atmospheric Fruit Jar Whitall's June 18 1861, Thumbscrew Mason JaAntique Midget Mason's 5 Patent Nov 30th 1858 Jar Ground Lip Aqua BlueMason's "a" Patent Nov. 30th 1858 Midget Pint Fruit Jar ~ Early Style As IsLight Apple Green Ball Bros. Glass Mfg Co Buffalo N. Y. Canning Fruit Jar LidDug Heavy Glass Mason's Patent Nov 30th 1858 Error (reversed #) Fruit JarFlaccus Bros. Glass Lid Fruit Jar With Steer's HeadMedium Olive Green Fruit Jar "atlas E-z Seal" W/wire Closure & Glass LidAqua Quart Ball (script) Mason’s N Patent Nov 30th 1858 Fruit Jar, Canning Jar!Universal L. F. & C Jar, Coffee Grinder Jar, Antique Dealer Liquidation1 Pint Vintage Texas Mason Fruit Canning Jar Original Vintage Antique Globe Pale Apple Green One Pint Canning Jar - Glass LidRare Aqua Ball Mason Fruit Jar Block Lettering LettersProtector Quart Size Ground Lip Fruit JarOlive Green Atlas Ez-seal Pint Fruit Jar W Matching LidAqua Quart C. F. Spencer’s Patent Rochester N.y. Fruit Jar, Canning Jar! White Bear-durand & Kasper Pint Fruit Jar Wire Top Glass LidAqua Midget Mason's Patent 1858 Fruit Jar Very Nice Specimen W Original LidVintage 1923~1933 Ball Perfect Mason Half~pint Clear Canning Jar ~ Ball Zinc CapVintage "globe" Amber Fruit Canning Jar - "31" Marked On Bottom - 7 3/4"- 1 Qt.Lucky #13 Blue Ball Perfect Mason 1/2 Half Gallon Canning Jar With #13 Zinc LidEureka No 13 Antique Fruit Jar Rare 1864 Glass Canning Bottle Post Civil War OldAqua Glass Canning Fruit Jar Lid Embossed (sun Moon And Star)5 Vintage Blue "ball Perfect Mason" Fruit Jars /weddings QuartHero Cross Over Mason's Patent Nov 30th 1858 Hammered Whittled Crude JarExcellent Ball Perfect Mason Fruit Jar Pint With Nice Big # 13 Base Mold NumberCherry Toothpaste Pot Lid And Base By B J L Of LondonKnowlton Vacuum (star) Fruit Jar Pint3 Rare Vintage Square 1/2 Half Pint Fruit Canning Jar Atlas Good Luck #2,3,4 Vintage Red Key Mason Indiana Quart Fruit Canning Jar W/zinc Cap Early 1900's

Recent News: Fruit Jars

Source: Google News

Auction to benefit local teen injured in crash
Greensburg Daily News, July 3rd

Contributed PhotoRob Parkison has been collecting Ball fruit jars since his childhood. The grandfather of Billy Parker planned to sell his entire collection of jars in order to help the family pay medical expenses, but a group of collectors instead...Read more

Feature: Local motion
Pacific Sun, June 24th

Delicious fudge offered in an old fruit jar, yum. Handmade beaded jewelry and leather bracelets from Sister Sue—beautiful. Brooks tells the story of a recent visitor who was somewhat blown away by the offerings: A 9-year-old walked in and shouted, “I...Read more

Copper House Tavern: A 'New Era' For Former Somers Inn
Hartford Courant, May 11th

Dessert specialties include a seasonal fruit jar, homemade cookies and milk (Kerr loves the Momofuku-style "compost" cookies) and crème brulee. The restaurant also offers a Sunday brunch from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., a $22.99 fixed-price menu of breakfast...Read more

Muncie industry had a huge impact here - and beyond
Muncie 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

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

Fruit Jar Tournament (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

Restaurant Review: The Fruit Jar Café, September 3rd

The decor includes hanging quilts, checkered tablecloths, fruit jars (obviously) and even a wheelbarrow that serves as a photo prop for patrons. The walls of the waiting area are papered with photos of patrons sitting in the infamous Fruit Jar Café...Read more

Southfield man settles lawsuit with Kroger, Del Monte over exploding fruit jar, January 18th

A Detroit-area man who says he was knocked unconscious by an exploding lid has settled his lawsuit against a grocer and a food company. Trial was scheduled last week in federal court. But Darryl Alexander's attorney, Mark Miller, said Tuesday he...Read more