There are few everyday objects more iconic than the Ball Mason jar. Stand it up next to the most memorable product designs of all time (e.g., Swingline Staplers, Polaroid Camera, Converse Sneakers, Swiss Army Knives, Levis Jeans, the Glass Coca-Cola Bottle, etc.), and it can hang with the best of them.
Perhaps it’s the timeless logo, the inexplicably comfortable weight of the vessel, or the effortless balance between elegance and utility that has secured Ball’s success for the last century. Ironically, while the Ball Mason jar is one of the more iconic products of all time, few people know the history behind the ageless invention. Seeing as how “Mason jar” related searches have reached “breakout status” in Google Trends (meaning the search term has grown by more than 5000%), we thought we’d help you satiate your curiosity by giving you a pint-sized history of the Ball Mason jar.
The Purpose Behind The Jar
Today, food manufacturers, restaurateurs, and home canners understand the finer points of preserving food. But 160 years ago, people weren’t considering(nor truly conscious of) the potential dangers of expired food or inadequately sealed vegetables. Without a thorough understanding of food preservation, foodborne illnesses such as botulism, listeria, and e. Coli were significant threats.
While rudimentary canning, pickling, and curing practices helped extend the lifespan of people’s food, it wasn’t until John Landis Mason invented his airtight invention, the Mason jar, that the art of food preservation was perfected. Mason was only 26 when he filed his jar patent! However, the journey to creating the ultimate jar was no simple process.
The Pioneer of Preservation
Before the jar, Mason patented a “Chuck for Making Sheet Metal Screws” in March 1858 (US 19786A). The conical shape of this chuck allowed him to create a cap that sealed as it was tightened. However, the problem of food preservation went much deeper than a fitted lid. Mason needed a vessel, one with uniform threads that matched the cap.
Because it didn’t exist already, Mason did what he did best: he invented another product, this time a “Mold for Making Bottles.” This new development came with significant improvements to the neck of the bottle while still using the existing glass molds (US 22129A).
From here, his inventions naturally improved, and Mason ultimately filed the patent for the “Improvement In Screw-Neck Bottles,” on November 30, 1858. It was the first hermetically re-sealable glass jar (US 22186A). These improvements, coupled with a rubber washer, transformed the capabilities of the home canning industry and solidified Mason’s place in history.
Not one to rest on his laurels, Mason continued to improve upon his ideas and secured another patent on June 6, 1871, called the “Improvement in Screw-Caps and Rings for Fruit-Jars” (US 115754A). Though it was only a minor revision, Mason added a small bump on the side of his lid to aid in opening jars. Mason’s final noteworthy patents, “Fruit-Jars” and “Fruit-Jar Covers,” were both issued on April 1, 1873 (US 137461A, 137462A).
Ball Brothers: Preserving Mason’s Legacy
After 20 years, Mason’s designs became public knowledge, and manufacturers had free reign to use them. Because competitors produced most Mason jars after his patent expired in 1879, Mason never achieved wealth, and sadly, lived meagerly until his death in 1902.
While some manufacturers blatantly ripped off his timeless invention, others were honest in their production. Documented factories that actually licensed Mason’s designs in the late-1800s include Mason Mfg. Co., Consolidated Fruit Jar Co., and Standard Union Mfg., and of course, The Ball Corporation.
According to Ball’s timeline, “Five brothers founded Ball in 1880 with a $200 loan from their Uncle George.” Initially, the company made wood-jacketed tin cans for products such as paint, kerosene, and other chemicals. Four years later, the brothers began manufacturing glass home-canning jars, the product that established Ball as a household name.
Interestingly, Ball Corporation no longer manufactures Ball branded Mason jars, but has expanded and grown into a worldwide company that makes everything from metal containers to aerospace parts.
Dating a Ball Mason Jar
Ball Mason Jar Sizes
The Spirit of the Jar Lives On
Because of the Mason Jar’s simple charm, it’s easy to overlook the profound impact it has had on our culture. In many ways, it’s transcended its original purpose as a mere a means of food preservation. Whether they’re used for party cocktails or eco-friendly pack n’ go containers, it’s clear that Mason jars have made a lasting impression on our culture.