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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Sunday Morning Meditation – Lovie, honestlyDecaturish.com, November 30th
That was a fruit jar with a minnow. I could do it all day long. It satisfied me.” I asked her, “What's the most important thing in the world to you?” “Freedom,” she said. “They ain't nothing no better than being free to do things.” She told me she wasn...Read more
Pleasures of a lifetimeMonroe News Star, November 26th
For water out of a fruit jar, taken down thirsty, and so cold it hurts to swallow;. For somebody who cares, really cares, that the day was lonely and lost;. For heart-meant forgiveness, giving and getting;. For the lovely memory that never fades and...Read more
Hints on making homemade fruit fly trapPortales News-Tribune, November 20th
Place the funnel in an empty drinking glass or glass fruit jar with the small opening facing downward. Position a small amount of a ripened banana just below the small opening in the funnel. Fruit flies will enter the glass container through the funnel...Read more
Farms Finest: Mason jars preserve food and American historyAspen 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
Old Fruit JarsThe Hub Magazine, September 3rd
His innovation was "a lid that screwed to the threaded-glass lip of a jar over a rubber ring that sealed previously boiled contents." After his "patent ran out in 1870, about 500 jar makers adopted it, including Ball and Kerr … Billions were sold...Read more
Art & Antiques: Collecting glass canning jarsNaples Daily News, July 9th
He won the prize. Later, glass jars came of age. In the late 1850s — 1858 to be exact — when the Mason fruit jar was patented by tin smith, John Mason, everything changed in the world of canning. The Mason jar solved the food preservation problem...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
Southfield man settles lawsuit with Kroger, Del Monte over exploding fruit jarMLive.com, 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