Photo by DIETER NAGL/AFP/Getty Images.
The snow globe: an emblem of winter, a cherished childhood trinket, a gift-shop staple. It’s an object that simultaneously evokes holiday cheer and, for some, eye-roll-worthy kitsch. Snow globes are irresistible for their promise of brief, easy entertainment—plus the added visual delight of the whimsical miniatures found inside.
Yet despite their ubiquity, most of us don’t know where snow globes come from. Indeed, the early years are rather fuzzy—but it is clear that the snow globe traces back to Europe near the end of the 19th century.
The oldest known description of a snow globe–like object comes from an 1880 U.S. Commissioners report on the 1878 Paris Universal Exposition, where a local glassware company showcased a group of “paper weights of hollow balls filled with water, containing a man with an umbrella.” The objects also contained white powder that fell “in imitation of a snow storm” when turned upside down. Such glass-domed paperweights were popular in the late 1800s, but this appears to be the first to include such a playful feature—and it seems to have been the world’s first snow globe.
However, it was an Austrian man named Erwin Perzy who is widely considered to be its proper “inventor,” albeit accidentally. In 1900, while living outside Vienna, where he ran a medical instrument–supply business, Perzy was asked by a local surgeon to improve upon Thomas Edison’s then-new lightbulb, which the surgeon wanted made brighter for his operating room. Drawing upon a method used by shoemakers to make quasi-“spotlights,” Perzy placed a water-filled glass globe in front of a candle, which increased the light’s magnification, and sprinkled tiny bits of reflective glitter into the globe to help brighten it.
But the glitter sank too quickly, so Perzy tried semolina flakes (commonly found in baby food) instead. They didn’t quite work, either, but the appearance of the small, white particles drifting around the globe reminded Perzy of snowfall—and he quickly filed the first official patent for a snow globe, or Schneekugel. By 1905, he was churning out dozens of handmade snow globes—often featuring small church figurines made from pewter—through his company, Firm Perzy. They became so popular among well-to-do Austrians that in 1908, Perzy was officially honored for his treasured item by Emperor Franz Joseph I…………….