From guest editors of The Cottage Journal:
From the classic clear originals to the colorfully patterned Mid-Century mod collections to the now ubiquitous glass measuring cups, Pyrex has been the choice of chefs and home cooks alike for more than 100 years.
Interestingly enough, the story of Pyrex doesn’t start in the kitchen—it starts on the railroad. In 1908, research scientists at Corning Glass Works created a glass insert for railroad lanterns that could withstand extreme temperature changes. Five years later, when the wife of one of Glass Works’s researchers grew frustrated with the poor quality of available casserole dishes, she tried
baking a sponge cake in two sawed-off battery jars made from the resilient material. She found that not only were the improvised dishes durable, they offered additional benefits like a shorter cooking time, more uniform baking, and a more stick-proof finish.
Intrigued by these home experiments, the company launched its first offering of glass kitchen dishes in 1915 called Pyrex. There were 12 items offered in the original line—many of which are still included in Pyrex’s catalog of products, now produced by World Kitchen.
Some collect the vintage culinary classic for the nostalgia, and some for the cheery, decorative quality it lends to a kitchen. But any way you bake, freeze, microwave, or display it, Pyrex holds the rare distinction of being both an affordable and useful collection. The most rare of patterns are priced in the hundreds of dollars, but many collectors have purchased some of their favorite pieces for a few dollars at thrift stores, flea markets, and estate sales—and many still use their collections every day in the kitchen.
Opal kitchenware, with its bright colors and screen-printed designs, hit the shelves in 1947 and continued to be manufactured into the 1980s. Lots of younger cooks are introduced to these classic-patterned looks when the cherished items are passed down from a mother or grandmother, and that’s a tradition that’s likely to stick around. More than 80 million people in the U.S. own one or more of these American-made products.
Text by K. Faith Morgan