Mason jars are all the rage these days. Etsy sellers are decorating them, decorators are using them to corral (among other items) paintbrushes, toothbrushes and kitchen utensils, and restaurants are using them to serve everything from iced tea to cocktails. (7-Eleven even sold Slurpees in them for a while.) Mason jars are everywhere.
But Mason jars have been around for over a century.
John Landis Mason, the son of a Scottish farmer and an American tinsmith, invented the iconic threaded glass jar and the corresponding screw top lid. Until Mason changed things, glass jars had been used for canning foods, but a wax seal was used to close the jar, a complicated and error-prone process, one that could allow deadly bacteria to grow in the food if done incorrectly. When Mason invented his jar, the old process was quickly replaced.
In home canning, food is packed into the Mason jar, leaving some empty space between the food and the top of the jar. A lid is placed on top of the jar. A band is screwed loosely over the lid, allowing air and steam to escape and creating a vacuum seal in the jar. The vacuum in a properly sealed Mason jar pulls the lid down to create a concave-shaped dome. A faulty seal will cause the dome to pop up and won't preserve the food properly.
The evolution of a favorite
Once Mason’s patent expired in 1879, other companies entered the home canning market, most notably the Ball Brothers Glass Manufacturing Company, which eventually became the Ball Corporation. Ball spun off into the Jarden Corporation, which was acquired by Newell. The company still makes Ball and Kerr brands of glass Mason jars today.
With the rise of household freezing and refrigeration, the need for canning foods decreased and the Mason jar lost some of its popularity. It experienced a resurgence with the “back-to-the-land” movement of the 1960s.
Nothing like today, though. Mason jars are as common now as they are iconic, gracing the shelves of practically every Target, Walmart and grocery store in America.
What makes Mason so hot?
So why the sudden resurgence? Why are people using Mason jars as vases, wall sconces, mugs and soap dispensers?
Explained eloquently by senior editor Robert Klara in Adweek: “Mason jars drip with nostalgia and exude an authenticity that somehow manages to be humble and sophisticated at the same time. And while critics have dismissed the trend as hipsters hungering for substance, it’s hard to refute the Mason jar’s muscular profile, versatility and, well, its sheer American-ness.”