Biographical / Historical
Pyrex glass had its origins in the development of temperature-resistant borosilicate glass for railroad lantern globes at Corning Glass Works (now Corning Incorporated) in the early 20th century. This new type of glass was marketed as Nonex or CNX (Corning non-expansion glass) and it proved so successful that the scientists and researchers at Corning were tasked with finding other uses for this durable material that did not shatter or crack under sudden temperature changes.
In 1913 the wife of Jesse T. Littleton, a Corning scientist, asked her husband to bring some of the new glass home to try baking with it. After baking a sponge cake in her oven using the sawed-off bottoms of two Nonex battery jars, Bessie Littleton discovered that not only was her cake “very well cooked” and “a remarkably uniform shade of brown all over” but that the cooking time had been quicker, she was able to monitor the baking in the oven since the glass was clear and that, afterwards, the glass was very easy to clean.
It would take another two years for the scientists at Corning to perfect a lead-free borosilicate glass safe enough for cookware and the first successful item to be produced using the new material was a pie plate. In 1915, Corning introduced to the public twelve ovenware dishes—including casseroles, loaf pans and custard cups—under the brand name of “Pyrex.” This also marked the start of Corning’s foray into the consumer housewares business. To test and promote the new Pyrex products, Corning hired two well-known home economists: Sarah Tyson Rorer, the prominent editor of “Ladies’ Home Journal,” and Mildred Maddocks of the Good Housekeeping Institute. Later the company established its own test kitchen where the home economist Lucy Maltby tested new products, created recipes and collected data from consumers. In just four years, Corning had sold more than 4.5 million pieces of Pyrex from a line that now included 100 dish shapes and sizes. Throughout the decades Corning continued to successfully introduce innovative glass products under the Pyrex brand name—such as “Flameware” items for stove tops and Opal Ware—which contributed to Pyrex becoming one of the most recognizable and iconic dishes in America’s homes.
Corning produced Pyrex Ware until the end of the 20th century. In 1998, Corning sold its Consumer Products Division and Pyrex Ware is now made and distributed by the kitchenware company, World Kitchen.
In 2004, after thirty-two years as a teacher and librarian, Dianne Williams turned her energies to collecting Pyrex Ware. Over the next six years her personal collection grew to over a thousand pieces of Pyrex items dating from 1915 -1983, and included Transparent Ovenware, Flameware, Opal Ware (decorated and plain), and hundreds of pieces of print ephemera such as catalogs and original magazine advertisements for nearly every year from 1915 – 1983. After having collected and researched Pyrex Ware in all its many forms, Ms. Williams had developed the resources necessary to create a comprehensive collector’s guide for Corning Incorporated’s most recognized name in consumer products. In 2010, the Corning Museum of Glass acquired Ms. Williams’ Pyrex Ware collection and the print ephemera as well as her manuscript for a collector’s guide is housed in the Rakow Library.
Dyer, D. (2001). "Corning: A story of discovery and reinvention." Corning, NY: Corning Incorporated.
Graham, M. B. W, & Shuldiner, Alec T. (2001). "Corning and the craft of innovation." New York: Oxford University Press.