CORNING, N.Y. — Pyrex cookware has been around for 100 years, ever since creator Corning Glass Works determined the heat-resistant glass used for rugged railroad lanterns also made a lovely sponge cake.
The Corning Museum of Glass is marking the centennial with an exhibition devoted to the kitchen staple that started the country cooking in glass. Now open, the display will pull from the museum’s 2,000-piece collection of Pyrex, from the first pie dish to the ubiquitous measuring cup, rounded out with decades of advertisements, design drawings, cookbooks and catalogs.
Here are five things to know about Pyrex on its 100th anniversary, according to the Corning Museum of Glass.
Corning Glass Works, now Corning Inc., was using a type of glass called Nonex, a temperature-resistant borosilicate glass, for railroad lanterns and battery jars when it began looking for additional uses to expand the market. Corning scientist Jesse Littleton brought a sawed-off battery jar to his wife, Bessie, who baked a sponge cake in it. She found the baking more even and efficient than the ceramic or metal pans of the time, and liked that it allowed for a clear view of what was cooking. Pyrex was released to the public in 1915. The first 12 clear glass products included covered casserole dishes, pie plates, shirred egg dishes, custard cups, loaf pans, au gratin dishes and oval baking dishes.
Corning developed durable white dishes for military mess halls in the 1940s, which evolved into the popular Pyrex opalware after World War II.
Between 1956 and 1987, designers borrowed from the colors and designs of the times to come up with nearly 150 patterns with names like Snowflake Blue, Butterprint, Spring Blossom and Early American to adorn mugs, mixing bowls, casserole dishes and other pieces.
Today, collectors scour yard sales and thrift shops for pieces and patterns, trade online and share pictures. Production of opalware stopped in 1987 as demand waned.
Does anyone not have a spouted Pyrex measuring cup in their kitchen? The clear glass vessel with red markings came out in 1925 and is considered the most iconic piece of Pyrex. One is displayed as part of chef Julia Child’s kitchen at the Smithsonian Institution.
The measuring cup underwent a significant redesign at Corning in the 1980s when the handle went from a closed loop to a comma, which allows for various sizes to be stacked for storage.
“Successful marriages start in the kitchen!” an early Pyrex ad in Good Housekeeping magazine informs. Print ads through the decades incorporated holidays, weddings, wartime and other historical events, including how the moon landing inspired the 1960s-era Horizon Blue pattern.
The cookware was sold as “swift, clean and economical” because it allowed women to bake and serve in the same dish and was easier to clean than traditional pans.
“Every woman with the interests of her home at heart should give Pyrex a trial,” a 1915 ad said.
In 1998, Corning sold its Consumer Products Division, which launched Pyrex as its first brand name, to a company known today as World Kitchen.
Corning’s decision came as it narrowed its focus to scientific and technical glass.
World Kitchen, based in Rosemont, Ill., continues to produce the Pyrex brand today.