Glass Christmas ornaments have been a staple on most American Christmas trees for more than a century. They often become treasured family heirlooms that grace trees for generations. Over the years, glass Christmas ornaments have evolved greatly from their hand-blown beginnings, but their beauty on a lit Christmas tree remains awe-inspiring.
Glass Christmas ornaments were first produced in Germany in the mid-1800s when a local glassmaker began blowing fruit- and nut-shape glass ornaments. Fruits and nuts were common Christmas decorations of that era but were often somewhat costly. Legend has it that the glassmaker, Hans Greiner, began making the glass Christmas ornaments because he could not afford the real food items. As the ornaments became popular he also began to make the spherical ornaments that are widespread today.
Other glassmakers in Germany quickly began to produce the ornaments, which by the late 1800s were used to decorate trees across Europe and the United States. F.W. Woolworth made millions of dollars selling these German glass Christmas ornaments to Americans each year at his five and dime stores.
While German glassmakers in Lauscha were the first to produce glass Christmas ornaments, today they are made in many areas around the world, including Japan, the Czech Republic and the United States.
Because of the tense relations between the U.S. and Germany in the first part of the 20th century, an American businessman decided that the U.S. should begin to produce their own glass Christmas ornaments to minimize the need to import the baubles. The businessman, Max Eckardt, joined with the Corning Glass Co. in 1939 to mass-produce inexpensive glass Christmas ornaments domestically.
Glass Christmas ornaments are still mass-produced worldwide today, though plastic ornaments now rival them in popularity. Known for their bright colors and shiny appearance, ball-shape glass Christmas ornaments or baubles are the most prevalent of all the glass ornaments. However, glass Christmas ornaments are available in a wide variety of shapes, sizes and colors to meet any tree decorator's needs.
Glass Christmas ornaments originally had lead or mercury in their interior to make the baubles appear silver, and later German glassmakers put a mixture of silver nitrate and sugar water inside for the same purpose. However, over time, and especially with material shortages during World War II, these methods were changed. In the 1940s, manufacturers stopped producing glass Christmas ornaments with silver linings, but newer, cheaper methods have since been introduced to keep the ornaments shiny and colorful.
Glass Christmas ornaments are available in all shapes and sizes, from simple balls to elaborate angel and Santa figures. These ornaments add color to Christmas trees and brightness because their shiny exterior reflects light. While pricier handmade glass Christmas ornaments are still available and certainly worth buying, mass-manufactured versions are inexpensive yet beautiful additions to any Christmas tree.
The obvious downfall to decorating with glass Christmas ornaments is how easily they can break while being stored and while in use. To minimize breakage, glass Christmas ornaments should be stored wrapped in tissue paper or cloth and packed loosely in boxes with other lightweight ornaments. In homes with small children or pets, glass Christmas ornaments should be hung on high branches of trees to avoid curious hands and paws.