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Heat-resistant Glassware Celebrates 100th Anniversary

  • George Putic

One hundred years ago, a new brand of kitchenware named Pyrex entered the American market, firmly imprinting its name into the psyche of consumers. It is still being manufactured while the early models are now collectors’ items.

The characteristic sound of putting the lid on a Pyrex dish is recognizable to many, as it can be heard in kitchens all over the world.

Heat resistant glass was invented in Germany at the end of the 19th century, but was used mostly in lanterns and in jars to hold telegraph and telephone batteries.

Its usefulness as cookware was discovered by accident. A scientist from the Corning Glass Works manufacturing company in New York brought his wife a sawed-off battery jar made of the so-called borosilicate glass, resistant to heat and mechanical abuse.

“She proceeded to bake a cake, a sponge cake, in this battery jar. And she discovered that the baking was much more efficient, and much more even than baking in ceramic or metal was,” said Kelley Elliott, of the Corning Museum of Glass.

Elliott added that when it finally appeared on the market in 1915, Pyrex dishware became an instant hit.

At first, dishes were made of clear glass, but the company soon started offering it in colors popular at that time.

Owner of the vintage homeware shop Aunt Katie’s Attic, in Scotia, New York, Kate Halasz, said these retro-colored dishes are much sought-after among collectors.

“It's kind of crazy! But the popular patterns are the pinks, the turquoises," said Halasz. "The friendship pattern is a pattern that came out in the 70s. That's highly collectible.”

Because it is not affected by temperature changes, borosilicate glass is also being used for astronomical instruments, such as the 5.1 meter telescope mirror at Mount Palomar Observatory.

As for Pyrex dishes, they are still being manufactured by companies that bought the rights to this recognizable brand name.

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