Mason Jars Have Been Around Seemingly Forever. So Why Are They So Popular in the 21st Century?

Consumers love their timeless, versatile and all-American virtues

Mason jars take their name from John Landis Mason, who invented the screw-top jar in 1858. Raquel Beauchamp
Headshot of Robert Klara

Until six years ago, Linda Braden lived a normal life as a wife, mother of two and a public relations executive. But then something happened that would change her life forever. It wasn’t an accident or illness, a religious conversion or winning the lottery. No—what changed Linda Braden’s life was the Mason jar.

“I was unaware of the existence of Mason jars until I was close to 50 years old,” said Braden, who recounts how she started painting them as a hobby, then seeing if people would buy them. People did. Today, Braden runs an Etsy shop called Mason Jar Crafts, and business is good enough that it’s replaced PR as her career. “In fact,” she said, “you could say Mason jars are putting my kids through college.”

Ball was never the only firm to make Mason jars, but it became synonymous with them—largely because of the iconic script on the glass. Early Mason jars had a single-piece lid of pressed tin. Ball later introduced a two-piece lid, whose “vacu-seal” rubber ring was more airtight.
Raquel Beauchamp

You don’t need to be an Etsy shopper to notice that Mason jars are everywhere these days. Pinterest and Instagram overflow with photos of what you can make with the jars (snow globes, sewing kits, herb gardens), and has a vertical devoted to wedding ideas (flower vases, candle holders) for them. Artists use Mason jars for keeping their pencils and brushes; home cooks use them for storing sugar and flour. Trendy bars serve $9 cocktails in Mason jars. 7-Eleven has served Slurpees in them. In New York, there’s a restaurant called Mason Jar that serves frozen margaritas in … well, you know.

“It is a classic, timeless and truly versatile product that people continue to love and use over time,” said a spokesperson for Newell Brands, which is in a position to know. Newell manufactures the Ball brand which, purists will tell you, is the only real Mason jar.

The Ball brothers (l.) went into business in 1880 and began making glass jars four years later. From 1910 to 1962, Ball’s “Perfect Mason” jars featured wide mouths (you can fit a whole tomato!) and shoulders for shelf storage. While Jarden introduced a Spiral jar this year, it still makes its classic Heritage jars, whose popularity remains undiminished.
Courtesy of The Ball Company

While New Jersey farmer John Landis Mason developed the threaded-neck jar before the Civil War, his patent expired in 1879, opening the door for the Ball brothers to innovate. They introduced glass jars in 1884, followed by the “Perfect Mason” jar: wide mouth, tin lid, tinted glass. In the days before refrigeration, canning was among the few ways of preserving food, and Ball jars became an indispensable tool in the feeding of America.

According to Newell Brands, home canning is still the main reason people buy Ball Mason jars, but decor and crafting account for 29 percent of the business. Above, Linda Braden’s Ball jar vases for sale on Etsy.

So how to explain the jar’s popularity in the 21st century? True, the artisanal food movement has rekindled an interest in canning, but aesthetics seem to be as potent a force as any. Mason jars drip with nostalgia and exude an authenticity that somehow manages to be humble and sophisticated at the same time. And while critics have dismissed the trend as hipsters hungering for substance, it’s hard to refute the Mason jar’s muscular profile, versatility and, well, its sheer American-ness.

Were this not so, Linda Braden would have no customers—and she has plenty. “Not a day goes by,” she says, “that I’m not working on Mason jars.”

This story first appeared in the May 22, 2017, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.

@UpperEastRob Robert Klara is a senior editor, brands at Adweek, where he specializes in covering the evolution and impact of brands.