MUNDANE MYSTERIES: Who’s The “Mason” Of Mason Jar Fame?

Have you ever preserved food? “Canning”, as some people call it? If you have, then you already know how great Mason jars are. Y’know, those thick glass jars that make for a tight seal thanks to their unique screw top lid. They come in a variety of sizes & are great for storing various types of food (as well as for sipping cold drinks). Mason jars had to have been named after a person named Mason, right? But, who was he? And why was so interested in jars?

John Landis Mason, of New Jersey, was born on January 1, 1832. A tinsmith by trade, his namesake invention came about in 1858, when he developed a glass jar that could be sealed to protect pressure-canned perishable food items that had been heated so as to destroy bacteria, then secured with a lid to make for an airtight container.

Prior to Mason’s success, attempts at heat-sealing food were…inconsistent, at best. Bottles, up until then, were usually sealed with either cork, wax, or both. Not only that, but the containers of the day were made of dark-colored glass, which didn’t allow for visibility. “What is this? Could be pickles…could be tomatoes. Fingers-crossed!” Also, earlier jars didn’t have an airtight top. So, Mason came up with his design for a threaded neck & metal cap design, with a rubber seal so that the contents could be kept from spoiling. John Mason’s jar was also clear, so you could finally see what you were about to consume. Huzzah!

Mason jars caught on quickly with food preservers, as well as folks who wanted to harvest their crop from one season & keep it for the next. The Mason jar boom slowed down in the 20th century, when commercial freezers & better transport systems made food storage easier & more convenient. Unfortunately for John Mason, he eventually saw his patent expire in 1879, so he never really made any money from his innovation before he passed in 1902.

But, the jars have remained popular with folks looking for alternatives to store-bought food & disposable packaging. Today, Mason jars are still mass-produced by the Ball Brothers Manufacturing Company, but originals are collectible; their value is usually based on what translucent color the jar may be. Cobalt blue Mason jars can go for thousands of dollars. So, go check your grandma’s cupboards…there may be money preserved up there. Or, maybe it’s just tomatoes…or pickles.

Got a Mundane Mystery you’d like solved? Send me a message via social media (@AndyWebbRadioVoice), or shoot me an email at [email protected].

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