From containers used to preserve food and dry goods to a versatile material beloved by DIYers around the world, Mason jars are everywhere. Have you ever wondered who invented Mason jars? They’re named after the man who created them, National Inventors Hall of Fame® (NIHF) Inductee John L. Mason. It’s likely these iconic jars will make an appearance in your kitchen this holiday season!
Read below to learn more about Mason’s invention and why it’s still popular today.
A Better Way to Preserve Food
John Mason was born in New Jersey in 1832. As the son of a Scottish farmer, growing up he began to learn firsthand both the importance of food preservation and how difficult the process could be.
For meats, poultry and vegetables, a process known as pressure canning is required. This involves heating the contents to over 240 degrees Fahrenheit to kill harmful bacteria. In 1806, this method was popularized by a French chef named Nicholas Appert, who used glass bottles sealed with a mixture of cheese and lime. Though home cooks during this time typically used “cork-and-wax contraptions” to seal their food, the results were often unreliable.
In 1858, at 26 years old, Mason patented an “Improvement In Screw-Neck Bottles” made out of transparent manganese-bleached glass. Thanks to the new jar’s threaded neck and screw-on lid, for the first time, canners were able to form a reliable seal while the hot liquids within cooled.
An Unfortunate Oversight
Thanks to their ease of use and effectiveness, Mason jars became an immediate success. Unfortunately, Mason overlooked the importance of protecting all aspects of his invention and did not initially patent the rubber ring located beneath the lid that enabled the airtight seal.
Though Mason corrected this oversight in 1868, by then a decade had passed and in that time, competitors using similar technology had already begun to flood the market. Following many failed court cases and unsuccessful business partnerships, Mason passed away in 1902 and was never able to capitalize on the popularity of his invention that revolutionized the way people were able to store and preserve food.
An Enduring Legacy
Mason’s original patent expired in 1880. That same year, the five Ball brothers, George, William, Frank, Lucius and Edmund purchased the Wooden Jacket Can Co., located in Buffalo, New York, and used Mason’s design to produce glass jars. They changed the name of the company to the Ball Brothers Manufacturing Co. and relocated the business to Muncie, Indiana.
Though Ball no longer manufactures Mason jars, throughout the 20th century the company became a household name. Due to advances and increased affordability of refrigerators during this time in the United States, relying on canning as the primary way to preserve food became less common. However, the practice of canning is still performed by many, and Mason jars are used in a wide variety of DIY projects including the creation of homemade candles and decorative lights.
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