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.”
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 TheKnot.com 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.
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.
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.”