The History of Ball Jars
In 1880, two Ball brothers, Frank and Edmund, borrowed $200 from their Uncle George, a minister, to go into business selling wood-jacketed tin containers to hold paint, varnishes and kerosene. This loan enabled them to purchase the Wooden Jacket Can Company and its patents from A.W. Aldrich. In 1883 the brothers switched to glass oil “cans” and then, three years later, to fruit jars. In 1884, three more brothers, George, Lucius and William, joined the company and it was renamed the Ball Brothers Glass Manufacturing Company.
In 1887, after fire destroyed their plant in Buffalo, they moved their business to Muncie, Indiana, to take advantage of a natural gas boom in the Midwest as natural gas is a critical component in the making of glass jars. The city offered free gas and a generous amount of land to rebuild the company, which stayed in Muncie until 1998. (Ball State University in Muncie is named after the Ball brothers who purchased buildings on the campus during the school’s early years.)
The Ball brothers seemed to possess all of the talents we associate with successful business people today. In 1909, the first Ball Blue Book was printed featuring home canning recipes and techniques. Although Ball jars didn’t necessarily advance the technology of home canning per se, the company did make a major contribution to the industry by becoming the most prolific producer of jars. The Ball brothers built a fruit-jar empire by mass producing and distributing trainloads of jars across the country and they aggressively took over several other smaller companies in order to maximize their hold on the industry.
Ball discontinued the use of their famous “Ball blue” glass in 1937. They had produced and controlled this color since the late 1890's. It was caused by the minerals in the sand they used in their glass batch (which came from the shores of Lake Michigan) and also the amount of oxygen used in the furnaces to melt the glass.
The “rounded-square” shape was adopted in 1942 as a way to save glass. The war board required all glass manufacturers to adopt this shape because they determined that it was the most efficient shape to contain a volume. English measurements (ounces and cups) on the side started about 1956, and Ball was the first fruit jar manufacturer to do this. Metric measurements on the side started about 1974.
After 92 years as a family-owned business, Ball went public on July 13, 1972, and its stock was traded over the counter. In 1996, Ball spun off its glass container business to Ball-Foster Glass Container Co. and exited the glass business. In 1998 the company moved its headquarters to Broomfield, CO, expanding into avionics, space systems, metal beverage and food containers, aerosol containers and plastic containers
Some of the more commonly known Ball jars include the Ball Perfect Mason, the Ball Ideal, and the more modern Ball Mason. Because of a wide variety of variations, collecting Ball jars has become a major collecting specialty. One way to date Ball jars is by their logo, which changed over the years.