Do you have any Ball fruit jars?
Are you beginning to think of doing some canning? Have you counted your jars to make sure you have enough?
It's this time of year when I think of a lady by the name of Emma Dorn who was known around town as the Ball Fruit Jar lady and for good reason. She had more than 15,000 jars in two storage sheds especially built for her by her husband, George.
She was born in 1920 on a small farm in southern Minnesota. She came from a big family of 11 siblings and she and her sister, Eileen, were the only girls. This meant that they had to help their mother with all of the fall canning activities. You might say that she got to know her way around a Ball fruit jar.
She married George when she was 20-years-old. He lived in a nearby small farm and after they were married, they moved into a room in George's mother and father's home. George's mother was delighted to have another female in the home who knew something about canning.
George served his term in World War II and after his parents died and his brothers had moved away from the homestead, he and Emma took it over.
They had six children and were not financially well off by any means.
This bothered Emma because they would have nothing of much value to leave their children outside of their 80-acre farm.
Farm auctions were big entertainment for families and it was a good place to pick up things that might cost you many times more downtown. Every family had hundreds of fruit jars and when they came up for auction at the sales, they went, as Emma used to say, "dirt-cheap."
She was talking to George one day and said, "You know, George, there will come a day when people no longer use the Ball fruit jar and they will become scarce and valuable. We don't have any money saved to give the kids when we pass away but maybe their inheritance could be fruit jars."
George thought about it for a while and said, "Well, I kind of doubt that they will be worth anything but you always had a notion about things and maybe you're right."
So, Emma and George began to buy fruit jars but only the blue ones with the wire bale clamp on top. They went to auctions and garage sales and within a matter of just a few years, they had more five thousand jars, without having too much invested.
Emma stopped to figure how much they would be worth if they could sell them some day for five dollars each. "That would be $25,000" George." She continued, "If they sold for $10 each that would be $50,000."
This calculating inspired them and within another five years, they had accumulated more 10,000 jars and George had to build a special shed to store them in.
Well, other people thought Emma and George were a little bit crazy for their addiction to fruit jars but they went along with them and even gave them any extra fruit jars they had just to get rid of them to the point within another few years, George had to build another shed to hold about 5,000 more jars — all blue with the wire bail clamp on top.
Emma would say, "Let's see, 15,000 jars at $10 each, that would be $150,000 we can leave the kids. Yes, George, I think it's time we stop buying jars." And they did.
Emma and George eventually retired from farming. They rented out the land but stayed in their home as long as they could. Their six children moved into towns around the area and had no interest in living the life of a farmer. Most of them were also now retired and they often took time to visit and care for their aging parents.
Whenever the kids got together, they raised one question. "What are you going to do with the fruit jars?" Emma had one answer, "You wait, before long, people will want those jars and will pay good money for them." George echoed her answer.
One day, William, one of Emma's sons, was in the dentist office and happened to pick up a Better Homes and Gardens magazine. Thumbing through the pages, he came across an article titled, "Blue is Beautiful." The article showed 51 ways to use old blue fruit jars to decorate your home. He tore out the article to show his mother.
At about the same time, a local antique shop owner must have read the same article and contacted Emma to see if she wanted to sell any of her jars. Emma said she would at $15 each and $10 each for fifty or more. The antique shop owner purchased 50 jars.
Before too long word got around that Ball fruit jars were in demand. Several antique dealers from Las Vegas heard about Emma and George's hoard of fruit jars and made them an offer for all 15,000. At $7 dollars apiece and they wrote a check for $105,000. Finally, Emma and George had something to leave their kids and now people said that Emma and George weren't so crazy after all and then they went to their basements to count their Ball fruit jars.