Last week my husband and I attended our county fair in Jackson County, Indiana. As we perused the exhibit buildings, I noticed many of the entries displayed in Ball canning jars. From being used as vases in the Horticulture Building to holding all manner of award-winning canned fruits and vegetables in the 4-H Building to being an exhibit itself in the Antiques Building, the Ball canning jar, in an array of colors and sizes, was prominently on display at the fair.
Having grown up in rural Indiana, the familiar glass jar in both blue-green and clear and emblazoned with the Ball emblem, holds a fond place in my childhood memories. About this time every summer, the bounty of our large vegetable garden found its way into a plethora of these jars.
Early in my childhood I’d learned that the Ball jars were manufactured in
Indiana, and that somehow the company was associated with Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. But living in the southern part of the state, some hundred and five miles south of Muncie, that was about the extent of my knowledge of the Ball Corporation.
Curious to know more, I did some research. Turns out, the Ball family was not a “homegrown” Hoosier bunch as I’d assumed, but hailed from the state of New York.
Ball brothers. Left to right: George, Lucius,
Frank, Edmund, and William
Wooden jacketed kerosene
By 1884, their New York operation included both metal and glass works. When they learned that the patent on the Mason Improved fruit jar had expired, they saw an opportunity to expand their product line. They began manufacturing fruit jars in their glass works and the lids in their metal factory.
Following a fire at their Buffalo, New York factory, the Balls looked to relocate. Needing a source of natural gas to fuel their glass works, they turned their sights to the Midwest and the Trenton Gas Field that spanned large parts of Ohio and central Indiana. Eventually, they settled on Muncie, Indiana, where they were offered free gas and plenty of land to rebuild their factory. In 1888, they filed a certificate of incorporation and began the Ball Glass Works of Muncie. Interestingly, the first products produced there were coal oil (kerosene) containers and lamp chimneys, not canning jars.
For the next ninety years the company remained under the Ball family control manufacturing not only canning jars and lids, but many other related products as well. By the 1950’s the company had even begun producing goods and services for the aerospace industry; now a wholly owned subsidiary of Ball called “Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp.
Ball State bell tower with campus
Ball’s glass production at the Muncie plant ceased in 1962 and the company headquarters moved to Broomfield, Colorado in 1998. The license to manufacture their fruit jar and lids is now owned by Jarden Home Brands.
Still, the Ball canning jar will forever be linked to my home state of Indiana. And now that I know it’s history, whether it’s holding peaches, greenbeans, or nothing at all like the two blue-green vintage ones decorating the top of my kitchen cabinets, the humble Ball canning jar will hold a little more meaning for me.
Do you have a special story or memory about canning or Ball canning jars? Please share it with us.
Ramona Cecil is a poet and award-winning author of historical fiction for the Christian market. A proud Hoosier, she often sets her stories is her home state of Indiana.
Check out her latest releases at www.ramonakcecil.com