For people who like to dabble in food preservation, Mason jars can be invaluable. The thick glass jars create a tight seal using a unique screw top lid design. Coming in various sizes and even a wide-mouth version, they solve a lot of food storage issues.

As you’ve probably already guessed, the jar was named after a person named Mason. Who was he? Why did he take such an interest in jars? And why don’t we know more about him?

John Landis Mason was born on January 1, 1832. The New Jersey native’s great invention came in 1858, when the tinsmith developed a glass jar that could be effectively sealed, protecting pressure-canned perishables that were heated to destroy bacteria and then secured in an airtight container.

While this might seem obvious, previous attempts at heat-sealed food storage were inconsistent. Bottles were often sealed with some combination of cork and wax, and the dark containers didn’t allow for any visibility. The bottle may have been pickles, or tomatoes. Previous jars didn’t have an airtight cap, either. Mason devised and patented a design with a threaded neck and threaded metal cap with a rubber seal that kept contents from spoiling.

Mason’s jar had another benefit, too. It was clear, which allowed for people to see the contents.

The jars quickly caught on with food preservation hobbyists, as well as farmers and people who might harvest food one season and want to keep it for the next.

The need for Mason jars began to dwindle in the 20th century, when commercial freezers and expanded transportation systems made food storage easier. The jars remained popular for people looking for alternatives to store-bought food and disposable packaging. The Ball Brothers Manufacturing Company helped make the Mason jars domestic staples, filling up shelves with canned goods.

Today, Mason jars are still mass-produced, and originals are collectible, with value often assigned according to the translucent color of the jar. Cobalt blue Masons can fetch thousands of dollars. But poor Mason, who died in 1902, saw his patent expire in 1879 and never really made any money from his innovation.

[h/t South Florida Reporter]