CORNING, N.Y. — The Corning Museum of Glass has opened “America’s Favorite Dish: Celebrating
a Century of Pyrex,” the first exhibition devoted to the iconic cookware. Organized in honor of the 100th anniversary of the 1915 invention of Pyrex, the exhibition features a wide range of objects and materials — from the first pie dish to the famed stackable measuring cup redesigned in 1983, as well as advertisements and ephemera, like product cookbooks and catalogs. The exhibition shows how this common household product, born out of scientific discoveries in glass, was shaped not only by designers and engineers but also by women consumers around the country. The show remains on view in the Rakow Research Library until March 17, 2016.
“The history of Pyrex reflects the history of the United States in the 20th century,” said Kelley Elliott, co-curator of the exhibition and former assistant curator of contemporary and modern glass at The Corning Museum of Glass. “As the country changed, so did Pyrex. New glass formulas were developed for evolving home technologies, marketing and sales strategies adapted to women’s changing roles in the home and workplace, and Pyrex patterns and advertisements changed to reflect fashions, décor and world events from the past century.”
The origins of Pyrex can be traced to the production of temperature-resistant borosilicate glass for railroad lantern globes by Corning Glass Works (now Corning Incorporated). This new glass was used for several products that required temperature-resistant glass. Only a few years later, Corning began to explore using this glass for housewares and marketed this new brand of borosilicate glass housewares as Pyrex.
At the same time Corning introduced Pyrex, home economics was emerging as a profession. From its introduction, Corning Glass Works embraced the idea of using these new domestic professionals to test and promote Pyrex. The company hired Sarah Tyson Rorer, an editor at Ladies’ Home Journal, and Mildred Maddocks of the Good Housekeeping Institute to promote the brand through cooking demonstrations at department stores around the country. In 1929, Corning hired full-time home economist and scientist, Lucy Maltby, to manage the company’s new consumer services office. By 1931, Maltby had established a Test Kitchen at Corning Glass Works, designed to evaluate new products before they were put on the market.
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Representative objects and advertisements from each decade will be on view to trace the evolution of the Pyrex brand. Particular highlights include:
• The first 12 Pyrex products introduced to the consumer market in 1915, including: covered casserole dishes, pie plates, shirred egg dishes, custard cups, loaf pans, au gratin dishes and oval baking dishes.
• Durable military mess ware developed by Corning Glass Works in 1940s, which evolved into Pyrex opalware after World War II.
• Representative pieces of nearly 150 Pyrex opalware patterns including the Terra and Verde patterns from the 1960s.
• Pyrex measuring cups, including the 1980s redesign which introduced a new handle that allowed measuring cups of various sizes to be stacked inside one another.
• A large archive of Pyrex advertisements, from its origins through the 1980s, incorporating themes such as weddings, wartime (specifically WWII), Christmas, intergenerational and historical events. One ad depicts how the moon landing inspired the Horizon Blue pattern.
• Original design drawings, correspondence and other ephemera related to Pyrex design and marketing.
“Because our comprehensive collection of glass tells the story of the development of this material from ancient to contemporary times, the Museum is uniquely qualified to tell and contextualize the story of Pyrex and its origins in Corning,” said Karol Wight, executive director of The Corning Museum of Glass. “Like many of the objects in our collection, Pyrex was made using the experimental and cutting-edge technology of its era. It also reflected the decorative taste of its time.”
The exhibition is accompanied by a comprehensive, dedicated website called Pyrex Potluck (http://pyrex.cmog.org), which features the Museum’s Pyrex holdings of more than 2,000 objects, sortable by pattern and/or date. The website hosts a database for Pyrex research and provides a place for enthusiasts to share their own stories, images and recipes with others. Features include digitized advertisements, articles and clips of oral histories conducted by the staff of the Museum’s Rakow Research Library, who have gathered personal perspectives from designers, engineers and marketing staff who worked with Pyrex products.
The website is sponsored by leading global housewares manufacturer, World Kitchen (www.worldkitchen.com), which has been a steward of the Pyrex brand for 16 years.
The exhibition is co-curated by Aprille Nace, associate librarian for public services; Regan Brumagen, public services librarian; Emily Davis, collections management assistant; and Kelley Elliott, former assistant curator of modern and contemporary glass. For a more detailed synopsis of the exhibition, read “A Century of Pyrex.”