A sim­ple sci­ence ex­per­i­ment evolved into a range of cook­ware that’s all glass, writes Chris Pear­son.

Australian House & Garden - - INSIDER -

When Jesse Lit­tle­ton, a young physics pro­fes­sor, and his wife, Bessie, moved to Corn­ing, New York, in 1913, they had no idea they would cook up a rev­o­lu­tion in bake­ware. Jesse had been em­ployed by the Corn­ing Glass Works to ex­plore uses for Nonex, a heat-re­sis­tant non-ex­pand­ing borosil­i­cate glass, which un­til then had been used for in­dus­trial bat­tery jars and rail­way lan­terns.

In a light­bulb mo­ment, Jesse sawed off the base of a bat­tery jar and urged Bessie to bake a cake in it. A sim­ple sponge emerged steam­ing from the oven and, af­ter a little tweak­ing in both lab and test kitchen,

12 items of glass bake­ware, in­clud­ing casseroles, dishes and pie plates, rolled off the pro­duc­tion line in 1915.

The new­comer’s virtues were lit­er­ally trans­par­ent. Not only was it tough and heat-re­sis­tant, it didn’t dis­colour, it didn’t taint the food, it pro­duced uni­form heat and, as it was see-through, you could see your dinner siz­zling tan­ta­lis­ingly in the oven.

Orig­i­nally called Pyright (from the Greek pyr, mean­ing fire), the bake­ware was re­named Pyrex as all the com­pany’s

prod­ucts ended in ‘ex’. Sales siz­zled.

By 1919, four mil­lion pieces, across 100 prod­uct lines, had been sold in the US.

Pyrex was break­ing new ground in an­other way too. In an era when women were gen­er­ally be­hind the hot­plate, the com­pany ac­tively en­gaged them in mar­ket­ing, sales, test­ing and prod­uct devel­op­ment.

Cap­i­tal­is­ing on a trend to­wards oven-totable con­ve­nience, from 1945, Pyrex launched white opal­ware, a tem­pered soda-lime glass. The new ranges were be­guil­ingly translu­cent and pro­vided op­por­tu­ni­ties for dec­o­ra­tion to com­ple­ment kitchens and din­ing tables. Mar­ket­ing tar­geted style-con­scious housewives. Ac­cord­ingly, the pat­terns re­flected the times – 1950s bu­colic flow­ers and farm­yards in muted hues yielded to bold, colour­ful geo­met­rics in the 1960s, while earthy tones teamed with stylised mo­tifs ap­peared in the 1970s.

Opal­ware con­tin­ued un­til the late 1980s, when the com­pany fired up pro­duc­tion on Corn­ingWare, made from an even tougher glass-ce­ramic, Py­ro­ce­ram, used for bake­ware from the 1960s. A spin-off of Corn­ing, Corelle Brands, ac­quired both Pyrex and Corn­ingWare in 1998. From 1926, Crown Crys­tal Glass pro­duced clear Pyrex in Aus­tralia, while also im­port­ing clear and opal Pyrex from the UK and the US.

From 1961, it in­tro­duced its own opal­ware, in­clud­ing the col­lectible Flan­nel Flow­ers, Black Rose and Golden Pine ranges. Crown Crys­tal Glass un­der­went sev­eral name changes, such as Crown Pyrex, re­sult­ing in dif­fer­ent back­stamps – which can per­plex the

Pyrex collector.


Pyrex lives on in the clear glass bake­ware avail­able from both su­per­mar­kets and spe­cialty stores. And flam­boy­ant opal­ware still re­mains highly de­sir­able. Just ask Stan Savel­lis of web­site That Retro Piece and au­thor of Dots and Di­a­monds, both of which trace the con­tri­bu­tion of many coun­tries, in­clud­ing Aus­tralia and New Zealand, to the ar­chive.

Stan be­gan col­lect­ing Pyrex in 2010; to­day, he has 3000 pieces, the most prized be­ing a Lucky in Love casse­role, a test item for Pyrex US and one of only a hand­ful in the world. His favourite pat­tern is Flan­nel Flow­ers, he says, “be­cause the flow­ers are na­tive to Aus­tralia and the dishes come in such beau­ti­ful vi­brant colours – yel­low, turquoise and pink”. Why the pas­sion for Pyrex? “I love the colours and pat­terns, but there’s a nos­tal­gic el­e­ment too,” he says. “I re­mem­ber Mum serv­ing fam­ily din­ners in a dish fea­tur­ing Pyrex

UK’s Chelsea pat­tern in the 1970s. She still uses that dish to­day.”

FROM TOP A 1950s ad­ver­tise­ment shows Pyrex’s clear and colour­ful ranges. Flan­nel Flow­ers casseroles, c. 1960s. A Car­ni­val casse­role dish brings vi­brant colour to the kitchen. Stan Savel­lis’ book, Dots and Di­a­monds.

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