A Little History of Glass & The Mason Jar


Blue sea glass is a special prize for those beach comers who keep their noses to the sand. The pearls polished by the ocean’s constant churning, whose previous life may have been a jar, emerges from the water laid on to a nest of sand. There are so many accounts across cultures and time of life originating from the great mysterious ocean. It is a wonder to consider the edges that hold those waters, made by the waters themselves, constitute the elements to make one of our great mythical and literal containers, glass.

Sand, the arms that hold earth’s massive liquid temperament, is a loose term primarily describing size. Formed by the long weathering of inland rocks who journeyed down to the waters to be finely broken down, sands made of quartz specifically are the ones when heated to extremely high temperatures (+3000 degrees) melts into a liquid that hardens off into glass. The first known glassmaker in history is nature. A bolt of lightning striking the beach will do the trick. (Fulgurite.)

The earliest glass human made glass is entirely unknown- a detail always worth celebrating. But some of the furthest back dating evidence of glass making employs liquid glass being poured into a breakable mold, and much of these earliest-known glass objects tend to be containers. This early glass-making process was so laborious- plus the additional production of other additives like plant ash and lime- that its luxury came and went through time according to the rise and fall of complex civilizations as it needed a structured civilization to carry it.

Sometime around the mid-first century in maybe somewhere around present day Lebanon a shattering breakthrough in glass-making occurred. It was discovered that glass could be blown into a bubble. Perhaps to some this was exciting enough, to others it meant that glass objects could be made quicker and with more variety which allowed glass to not be only a rare luxury item but something for anyone to own. Eventually in the 19th century a fellow in Toledo, Ohio patented the glass blowing machine which ensured the general mass affordability of glass jars.

Side step: In France during the Neopoleanic Wars a challenge was set for someone to find a method to preserve food for the soldiers aboard ships on long voyages. A candy-maker eventually figured out a method for creating a vacuum by using a hot water bath- the beginning of canning. The early days of canning worked its way to a certain point of maturation with the help of a whole variety of wars to keep figuring out how to feed more and more soldiers and eventually World War 1 that brought us the first whole meals in a (tin) can! Home canning with glass was mostly done by the rural homestead. The way to seal jars then was with wax as Appert had figured out way back when.

Then John Mason randomally swept in and changed all of food preservation forever. Using glass bottles that originally were blue due to impurities in the sand, he designed the very first screw top as an improvement to the wax finish. Secondly on the metal lid he added a rubber ring to create a better seal. Many-a company jumped aboard Mason’s innovations and some stayed true to his standards and design, including Ball who continues to make them today (and who at some point cleverly geared their marketing to appeal to the emerging hipster thing and won over fancy cocktail bars everywhere). Additionally, if you ever saw a Kerr jar you can attribute/ blame them with coming up with the two-peice lid thing we all have fumbling around in our kitchens.

But hipsters aside, the popularity of the Mason jar seems forever bound to society’s back-to-the-land urges as it ebbs and then peaks again with world ending events like WW2, the 60’s, and the Covid pandemic. As opposed to metal and plastic who can potentially leach, glass is a fantastic small scale fermentation device, as Mason jars have gracefully filled the role for so many of us. There have been plenty of times that I’ve pursued the romance of ceramic only to remember, amidst that one fatal lapse in refilling the water reservoir, my affection for Mason’s wonderful screw cap.

Dearly holding on to the speculative story of the first salt-based fermentations originating from sea water enabled by the dramatic alteration brought about by the container that rose its edges around it to hold its contents. That small dose of ocean was spliced to go with those humans anywhere they went. And today while we make our own salt water far away from an ocean, we carry a piece of it, made from the sands that contain it to plunge our vegetables in.