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History of the snow globe
The snow world symbolises winter, a cherished childhood trinket, a must-have in the gift shop. It’s an object that evokes both holiday cheer and, for some, star-studded eye-catching kitsch. Snow planets are compelling for their security of immediate and easy enjoyment and the counted visual enjoyment of the whimsical miniatures found inside, like in the snow globe colouring pages above.
Yet, despite their ubiquity, most of us don’t know where snow globes come from. Indeed, the early years are rather hazy – but it is clear that the snow globe dates back to Europe towards the end of the 19th century.
The earliest known description of a snow globe-like object comes from an 1880 U.S. Commissioners report on the 1878 Paris World’s Fair, where a local glass company displayed a group of “hollow balls filled with ‘water, containing a man with an umbrella’. The objects also contained a white powder that fell “mimicking a snowstorm” when turned over. Glass-domed paperweights were popular in the late 1800s, but this appears to be the first to include such an animated feature…and it appears to be the world’s first snow globe. Tell it to your child who is colouring a snow globe. He will undoubtedly be amazed to learn that this toy is so old!
However, an Austrian named Erwin Perzy is widely believed to be its true “inventor”, albeit by accident. In 1900, while living outside Vienna, where he ran a business supplying medical instruments, a local surgeon asked Perzy to improve Thomas Edison’s new light bulb. The surgeon wanted to make more light for his operating room. Relying on a method used by cobblers to make quasi-“spotlights”, Perzy placed a glass globe filled with water in front of a candle, which increased the magnification of the light and sprinkled tiny reflective sequins in the globe to help illuminate it.
But the flakes sank too quickly, so Perzy tried semolina flakes (found in baby food). They didn’t quite work either, but the appearance of the little white particles drifting in the globe reminded Perzy of falling snow, and he soon filed the first official patent for a snow globe or Schneekugel.
By 1905 he was making dozens of handmade snow globes (often featuring small pewter figurines of churches) through his company, Firm Perzy. They became so popular among well-to-do Austrians that in 1908 Perzy was officially honoured for his prized object by Emperor Franz Joseph I. Again, tell that to your child who is making a snow globe colouring page.
Indeed, the snow globe emerged at a time when upper-middle-class families, newly wealthy after the Industrial Revolution, began collecting intricate artistic objects and displaying them in their homes. Although it is unclear exactly how much these early globes cost, they were expensive due to the time required to paint, mould and assemble them. After the end of the First World War in 1918, increased tourism increased the demand for eye-catching souvenirs, especially snow globes.
Gradually, news of whimsical jewellery reached America. In 1927, a Pittsburgh man named Joseph Garaja applied for a snow globe patent there, and with it, he introduced a radical new method: underwater assembly. This ensured that each globe would be filled with liquid and saved a lot of time and money, turning the expensive snow globe into the affordable product we know today. Bring out the water in one of these snow globe colouring pages!
By mid-century, snow globes had become an American phenomenon. Brands employed them for advertising, and they were even used to promote civilian morale during World War II, with toy soldiers becoming common additions. Innovations in plastic production and injection moulding during the 1950s further improved.
The snow globe: expensive particles used for “snow” were replaced with inexpensive plastic “flitter”, while the glycol mixed with water helped it fall slower. The product could be found in gift shops across the country, becoming a highly sought-after souvenir during the post-war tourism boom; Walt Disney’s oldest known snow globe, one with a miniature Bambi,
Since then, traditional snow globes have remained largely the same, although most are now made of Plexiglas and produced in foreign countries. Yet there is a large market for high-quality, handcrafted glass globes: the Viennese Perzy family continues to produce thousands each year, with customers including former U.S.
President Bill Clinton, who had globes filled with confetti at one of his inauguration parties, and Barack Obama, who once gave his daughters an original Austrian snow globe. Explain the story of this amazing toy to your child while they colour a snow globe. I’m sure they’ll be amazed!