2015 Marked the 100th anniversary of Pyrex. WENY’s Natalie Abruzzo has the story about how the popular cookware and dishes came to be from its original home of Corning, NY.
May 29, 2015
CORNING, NY (WENY) — This year marks the 100th anniversary of Pyrex and the Corning Museum of Glass (CMoG) is opening an exhibit on the cookware on Saturday, June 6th.
The cookware and dishes that may have been in your grandmother’s or mother’s kitchen cabinets are now set to be part of a year-long exhibit at CMoG.
The cookware is known widely for its design elements with many colors and patterns. However, Pyrex did not start out that way. Originally, the glass was transparent and used for railroad lanterns because the glass was durable and heat resistant.
In fact, Corning Glassworks who created the iconic cookware, was originally an industrial glass company, supplying materials to other companies and hardware stores.
“cookware was completely foreign to them. but they wanted a way to find to use this great glass that they had,” said Co-Curator of the Pyrex exhibition, Regan Brumagen.
Corning Glassworks physicist, Jesse Littleton had his wife, Bessie Littleton, bake the very first sponge cake in a sawed-off bottom of a battery jar. Then Littleton brought the cake in to work the next day.
“He took it to his co-workers the next day, they loved it, they said it was great. Everything was beautiful, it baked evenly, it came out clean. And so they thought well maybe this is our new line of products we can market.”
The product became an instant success. The opal ware was first used in the military in the 1940’s as mess ware because it was durable and soldiers could not break it easily. Then the company took the white opal ware and began to make designs on it – first using primary colors and then with the patterns and array of colors that would catapult the dishes into popular status.
“They appealed to the modern cook in a lot of their ads and it’s funny because the modern cook in the 1920’s is very different than the modern cook in the 1970’s. But they were often using that same tag – be a better cook, be a modern cook with Pyrex. And so the dishes were utilitarian but also meant to be beautiful,” said Brumagen.
Pyrex is part of Americana and pop culture. There are dealers and enthusiasts and collectors all over the country. A few of them are dealers at Twin Tiers Antiques Plaza on Market Street in Corning, like Marcia Melnyk. She’s been collecting the iconic Pyrex for most of her adult life.
“Watching my grandmother, my mother use multiple kitchen ware items that were Pyrex, made that become a nostalgia for me,” said Melnyk.
Her father-in-law also worked for Corning Glass for over 35 years and would often bring home unique and rare pieces, filling the Melnyk kitchen with Pyrex. So full, that she has hundreds of pieces at home and is why she began down-sizing by selling at the antique shop as well as eBay. And she’s found that her home housewares are quite sought after treasures.
“I started looking for space savers and I found one that was turquoise and I know, turquois and pink are the most popular collectors colors right now and I picked it up and it was four quart and it had a glass lid and the compass patterns on it. And I put it up on EBay without really realizing I guess the rarity of it and that escalated and sold to a lady from Niagra Falls for twelve hundred dollars.”
Melnyk has even gotten a mention in an upcoming book about rare and hard to find Pyrex for a psychedelic sixties pattern she had in her collection. Author, Michael Barber, has a 2nd edition of his book, Pyrex Passion: The Comprehensive Guide to Decorated Vintage Pyrex coming out in 2016 that will show Melnyk and this unique dish.
The Pyrex Melnyk has amassed through the years holds special memories for her, and she is happy to share her collection with those seeking a similar experience.
“I’m glad that the pieces are going out to people who are actually keeping them in their collection because that is the point. I am down-sizing some of mine, and it’s fun to find it and watch the excitement of other people as they pick up a piece that they want to add.”
There is a whole new crowd of collectors that enjoy the mid-century designs.
“More people are you know, engaged with something that they have in their own homes as opposed to something that maybe they’d never be able to have you know that sits in a museum and is maybe out of reach for a lot of us,” said Brumagen.
The Pyrex exhibition opens June 6th at the Corning Museum of Glass and will be on-view through March 17, 2016.
For more information on how to get tickets to the exhibit, visit CMoG.
For more information about how to explore the history and patterns of the past century, visit CMoG Pyrex Potluck.
Pyrex displays at the Twin Tiers Antiques Plaza are by Judy Brinkerhoff, Laurie Bowen and Marcia Melnyk. For more information about the Twin Tiers Antiques Plaza, visit their Facebook page.