Pyrex 100th anniversary — thank you, Bessie Littleton!

vintage pyrex adHappy 100th birthday, Pyrex! This clear glass cookware — classic Americana — has a very colorful history. Its genesis came in 1913 from Bessie Littleton, whose husband Jesse worked at Corning Glass Works. Bessie was frustrated when her stoneware casserole broke apart in the oven, so she asked her husband if the Glass Works had a suitable substitute. vintage pyrex advertisementUp until then, it seems, there was no such thing as glass bakeware. The next day, Bessie’s husband brought home the sawed-off bottom of a battery jar used by railroads that was made of a special shatter-resistant glass. Bessie put it to the test and liked the results… the company decided to use this opportunity to make a move into the consumer market… and in 1915 the Pyrex we know of today was born. Let’s take a look at this classic Americana company’s history … and at the products they have introduced to mark their centennial.

vintage pyrex advertisement

History of Pyrex

This book on the history of home economics had a wonderful short history of the development of Pyrex, including how home economists helped the company with its product development.

On its website, Pyrex explains more about the special glass:

The heat-tempered glass that is the foundation of the Pyrex brand was created years earlier by Corning Glass scientists charged with developing lantern glass for railroads. They needed to tackle a particular problem—the heat of the lantern flame conspired with the cold air of winter to shatter traditional glass. They needed a glass that could handle changes in temperature. By 1913, the glass was used in a number of industrial applications.

vintage pyrex advertisementThe Pyrex Wikipedia page also discusses borosilicate glass and notes that it continues to be used today in laboratory glassware because of its clarity and low thermal expansion.

However, today, Pyrex is made using tempered soda-lime glass. Here at Retro Renovation, we tend to be suspicious purists and might lean toward “buy vintage” — golly, I see it at every estate sale I go to, that’s for sure. That said, I don’t really know if there is any functional difference or other reason to buy new vs. vintage.

UPDATE: Jennifer pointed us to this 2011 report by Consumer Reports in which Consumer Reports researched reports by users of the new formula that the glassware shattered. Take a look, check with your own experts, do your own research, make your own decisions, be sure to follow directions/labels/etc.

vintage pyrex advertisement
(This one is from Pam’s collection.)

How did Pyrex get its name?

The Wikipedia page also lists this interesting blurb from a Corning executive on the etymology of the name “Pyrex”:

The word PYREX is probably a purely arbitrary word which was devised in 1915 as a trade-mark for products manufactured and sold by Corning Glass Works. While some people have thought that it was made up from the Greek pyr and the Latin rex we have always taken the position that no graduate of Harvard would be guilty of such a classical hybrid. Actually, we had a number of prior trade-marks ending in the letters ex. One of the first commercial products to be sold under the new mark was a pie plate and in the interests of euphonism the letter r was inserted between pie and ex and the whole thing condensed to PYREX.

vintage pyrex advertisement

Pyrex advertising

Of course, we also love doing these anniversary stories because it enables us to get our hands on adorable vintage advertising. Like many other consumer products firms during the early- through mid-20th Century, Pyrex depended on idyllic American Dream style illustrations to market its products. Many of them played on the “it’s clear as glass” theme — to great effect.

vintage pyrex advertisementvintage pyrex advertisementvintage pyrex advertisement
vintage pyrex advertisement

Pyrex 100th anniversary collection: Hail to the Dots!

pyrex 100 anniversaryTo celebrate Pyrex’s big birthday, the company has issued a special Pyrex 100 line — including a 100th anniversary engraved pie plate, five new measuring cups, five ‘Dots’ storage pieces in vibrant colors, as well as two new portable bags for the Pyrex 3-quart oblong baking dish. The Pyrex 100 anniversary line will be available to purchase until the end of 2015.

pyrex 100th anniversaryThe centennial “Dot” design was inspired by Pyrex “New Dots” opal glass pattern, introduced in 1967.

pyrex new dot bowls vintageAbove: Complete set of vintage Pyrex “New Dot” bowls,
photo courtesy of etsy seller Sassbox Classics. The pictured set is sold.

I found a little more information and a vintage catalog image showing the “New Dot” Pyrex pattern over on Corelle Corner. It seems the “New Dot” bowls were available in four sizes, and sold as open stock — not in a set of four. After doing a quick search of ebay and etsy, it seems like full sets including all four color/sizes are hard to come by.

1960s Formica Girl ad
Polka-dot Formica goddess from one of Pam’s rants to Resist the Greige Nation.

Dots are hots! Psshaww to chevrons: We LOVE dots — and especially polka dots!

pyrex 100th anniversary

Pyrex 100 Easy Grab pie plate: This limited pie plate carries the official 100th anniversary insignia. Etched into the bottom of the pie plate are the words “Made in Charleroi, PA USA” to honor the generations of hardworking families in Pyrex’s hometown. MSRP: $5.99

pyrex 100th anniversary

Pyrex 100 portable bags — Designed to safely transport the 3-Qt Pyrex baking dish. MSRP: $15.99 (bag only) & $34.99 (bag with baking dish)

pyrex 100th anniverary

Pyrex 100 measuring cups — Available in 5 colors and are stamped by the Pyrex 100th Anniversary logo. MSRP: $3.99 – $6.99

pyrex 100th anniversary

Pyrex 100 4-cup decorated Storage —  MSRP: $5.99

Thanks to Michael Scheffki, Brand Lead for Pyrex, for supplying information for this story, along with the new product photography and vintage Pyrex advertisements.

Who has Pyrex memories?
Do we have Pyrex collectors among us?

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  1. Adamson says:

    Last Christmas, I gifted pyrex storage dishes which I got from worldkitchen.com. She love them a lot and still now she is using them.

  2. Karen says:

    I am reading with interest all the comments about shattering. My mom had a breakage incident in the mid-70’s that I witnessed, when she had used one of her Pyrex rectangular baking pans in the broiler. Pretty sure it was one of the older pans. It cracked down the middle and in a few other places. Was very glad that it did not explode in her face! The only time that I have seen such a thing occur. I have had no issues myself with my vintage Pyrex, nor with my newer pieces.

  3. RocketGirl75 says:

    My brother married a lovely woman from Charleroi, PA, whose mother is a Pyrex hoarder. She had enough stuff for a museum–like, literally, she wanted to open a museum. I’ve filled my drawers with rock-bottom-priced leftover refrigerator sets, storage containers, brownie pans, the whole nine.

    While you have to make an appointment to see and buy from the collection (and wear old clothes, because this is no-joke picking), she’s usually offered a great price and they’re looking to offload. So if you’re in southwestern PA, drop me a line and I’ll see if the family’s around for a pick! (jody@rocketcitydigs.com)

  4. Rosemary says:

    These guys were on sale at my local Target yesterday – not sure how long the sale last. Also, check out Target’s website too to see if the sale is online.

  5. Jen says:

    I am also addicted to pyrex! I just saw the display in Meijer’s and about flipped when I saw the dots!!
    My addiction started with growing up and using my mom’s Americana Fall Colors mixing bowl set (which I proudly own now- thanks mom!). I like to find my vintage pyrex in “the wild”. This means garage sales, estate sales, and visits to the local Goodwill store. I weep inside when I find a piece washed out from the dishwasher! Who would do that???
    My goal is to happen upon a real “find”.
    Yes, I have a hutch in the kitchen top to bottom full of vintage pyrex.

  6. Cara says:

    I just checked my Target and found the measuring cups and covered containers on sale! (I suppose only through today) I didn’t see the pie plate or the carriers/a space they would be. We have a Correlle outlet store which I haven’t gotten over to yet. Has anyone found any there?

    1. Mary Elizabeth says:

      I did see the measuring cups and covered containers at the Corning/Revere Outlet in Tanger Outlets in Westbrook, Connecticut.

      1. Mary Elizabeth says:

        And I saw the measuring cups at ShopRite Supermarket.

        The dotted containers were on line at Target, but only the 4 cup size.

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