A Brief History of Common Home Canning Jars


What are Ball Jars, Kerr Jars, Mason Jars?

Primitive Canning

Until 1858, canning jars used a glass jar, a tin flat lid, and sealing wax, which was not reusable and messy!

Mason Jars

But in 1858, an inventor and tin smith from New York City, John L. Mason, invented the mason jar. He invented a machine that could cut threads into lids, which made it practical to manufacture a jar with a reusable, screw-on, lid. This was the  difference between his design and predecessors, the sealing mechanism:  a glass container with a thread molded into its top and a zinc lid with a rubber ring.  The rubber created the seal, and the threaded lid maintained it.  The jar included his patent: "Masonís Patent November 30th. 1858."

The ease of use and affordability of Mason jars helped home canning spread across the nation, not only among farmers, homesteaders and settlers, but also urban families, who began family traditions of canning sauces, pickles, relishes, fruit and tomatoes. Sadly, Mason sold off his rights to the jar to several different people and died a relatively poor man around 1900.

Clamped Glass-Lid Jars (Lightning Jars)

In 1882, Henry William Putnam of Bennington, Vermont, invented a fruit jar that used a glass lid and a metal clamp to hold the lid in place. These "Lightning jars" became popular because no metal (which could rust, breaking the seal or contaminating the food) contacted the food and the metal clamps made the lids themselves easier to seal and remove (hence the "Lightning" name) . There were many similar glass lid and wire-clamp jars produced for home canning all the way into the 1960s.  Many can still be seen in garage sales, flea markets and on specialty food jars today.

Atlas Jars

The Atlas E-Z Seal is a type the Lightning jar. The difference is a raised lip to help keep the jar from cracking. This was called the "Strong Shoulder" and was similar to the mason jar. The cracking was a common problem with shoulder seal jars. Hazel-Atlas Glass Company were in business from the late 1800s until 1964.

Ball Jars

Meanwhile, in Buffalo, NY, William Charles Ball and his brothers (Lucius, Lorenzo, Frank C., Edmund Burke, and George Alexander) were in the business of manufacturing wood-jacketed tin cans for the storage of oil, lard and paints. In 1883, the Ball's changed from tin to glass containers and then, in 1886, to glass fruit jars. They moved their operations to Muncie, Indiana, after a fire at their Buffalo factory.  Muncie (where a supply of natural gas had been discovered) was chosen because the city was offering free gas and land to rebuild the factory.

The Balls began acquiring smaller companies, and mass producing and distributing jars across the country. They quickly became the leaders in the industry.

Kerr Jars

Alexander H. Kerr founded the Hermetic Fruit Jar Company in 1903 and among the first commercial; products were the Economy and Self Sealing jars. The Economy jars were among the first wide-mouth jars, and thus, were easy to fill.  They also incorporated aspects from two 1903 patents held by another inventor, Julius Landsberger: a metal lid with a permanently attached gasket. This made the lids easy to use and inexpensive.

Mr. Kerr later (1915) invented a smaller, flat metal disk with the same permanent composition gasket. The lid sealed on the top of a mason jar; a threaded metal ring held the lid down during the hot water processing. This allowed re-use of old canning jars together with inexpensive and easy to use disposable lids. The jar we know today was born! This two-part lid system transformed home canning safety and is still in use today.

Kerr also made the first wide-mouth jars, which Ball was quick to duplicate.

Today

The Ball Corporation owned and operated many other plants located in other cities including El Monte, California, Mundelein, Illinois, Asheville, North Carolina. Ball Corporation no longer sells home canning products. Ball spun off that part of their  business in 1993 as Alltrista Corporation (which is now Jarden Corp.).  Since 1993. the Alltrista Corporation has been manufacturing the Ball glass canning jars. They also make Kerr, Bernardin and Golden Harvest canning jars. Alltrista's home canning product and more information on Ball jars, can be found on their website at homecanning.com.

And for easy, step-by-step illustrated canning directions, from applesauce to pickles to jams, click here!

Collecting Old Canning and Fruit Jars

For inquiries specifically related to old or antique Ball jars, you may contact the Minnetrista Cultural Center, 1200 North Minnetrista Pkwy., Muncie, IN 47303-2925, Phone: (765) 282-4848, Ext. 117.

They may be able to address questions you may have about old home canning jars (but not home canning). You can find additional information about jar collecting from these sources:

  • Alice M. Creswick. The Fruit Jar Works. Volumes I and II. D.M. Leybourne, publisher. Reprint of 1987 original edition. Not a price guide. Write to: P.O. Box 5417, North Muskegon, MI 49445.
  • D.M. Leybourne. The Collector's Guide to Old Fruit Jars. Copyright 1993. A 300-page price guide. Write to: P.O. Box 5417, North Muskegon, MI 49445.
  • Schroeder: One Thousand Fruit Jars (1752) (Paperback)
     

 

Does Ball still make rubber seals for the older zinc caps? No. Occasionally you may run across an old box of rubber seals, but home canning experts do not recommend that you use them. They have aged and will probably not seal effectively, especially on an older jar.

Jar Collecting Websites

Home Canning Kits

This is the same type of  standard canner that my grandmother used to make everything from applesauce to jams and jellies to tomato and spaghetti sauce. This complete kit includes everything you need and lasts for years: the canner, jar rack, jar grabber tongs, lid lifting wand, a plastic funnel, labels, bubble freer, and the bible of canning, the Ball Blue Book. It's much cheaper than buying the items separately. You'll never need anything else except jars and lids (and the jars are reusable). To see more canners, of different styles, makes and prices, click here!
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Lids, Rings, Jars, mixes, pectin, etc.

Need lids, rings and replacement jars?  Or pectin to make jam, spaghetti sauce or salsa mix or pickle mixes?  Get them all here, and usually at lower prices than your local store!

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This page was updated on 19-Jul-2017