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Lightning in a Bottle

mason-jarsWhat is the appeal of the mason jar? It conjures rustic romanticism and good, homemade food. Some even say that it captures summer in a jar, to be uncapped and enjoyed in the long, cold winter. Perhaps you’ll even be inspired to preserve something tasty in a jar yourself on November 30, Mason Jar Day.

John L. Mason didn’t set out to become famous when he invented the mason jar on November 30, 1858. In fact, he didn’t invent the jar at all but rather the unique two-piece metal screw cap. Mason was, after all, a tinsmith, so he was well-versed in the utility of metal. Heat-based canning as a method to preserve foods was common in kitchens prior to Mason’s invention. The one problem common to this type of preservation was a faulty seal. As soon as air entered the jar or can, food began to spoil. Mason’s airtight lid solved that problem beautifully, advancing the efficiency of the canning process. While his airtight lid kept food fresh, the clear glass jar made the contents appetizing.

The most popular mason jar manufactured today is the ubiquitous Ball brand jar. Ball jars were first manufactured in 1884, and today, they are created at a rate of 17 jars per second. Not only is the glass favored over plastic jars made with synthetic chemicals but these jars are also appreciated for their versatility. A mason jar is no longer singularly used to preserve foods like jam or pickles; the jars are also used as soap dispensers, planters, vases, and drinking glasses—not just for moonshine but for trendy cocktails. A mason jar is as authentic a piece of Americana as a cowboy hat. Collectors even seek out rare and valuable mason jar specimens. The Universal jar is worth thousands. Produced in Buffalo in 1937, only 50 were ever manufactured. Even more highly prized is the extremely rare Buffalo jar made in amber glass by the Ball company, of which only four are known to exist. From the mundane to the magnificent, mason jars have captured both food and the public’s imagination for over a century.