“And of all that Thou shalt give me I will surely give the tenth unto Thee.” Genesis 28:22
Canning and preserving are as fundamental to Americans as apple pie and baseball. But up until 1858, sealing food jars was a cumbersome process using dripping hot wax. Nothing was reusable – everything was messy.
Large Portion of Success
There were some inventors who tried to create easier sealing methods, but with few results. However in 1903, an in debt and unknown wholesale grocery man, Alexander Kerr, experimented. In the process, he created the Economy Jar: an easy loading wide-mouthed jar, used with another patent. Kerr, a Baptist, had taken a “tithing vow” the year before in Portland, Oregon, making God a partner in his Hermetic Fruit Jar Company. Because canner could put food easily through its wide mouth, the jar was an instant success.
“Three months later… [Kerr] borrowed money to buy a patent on a glass vacuum jar and got San Francisco Glass Works to supply his materials. In four years he had a profitable business.”1
He continued to experiment and by 1915 he created a two-part lid, the Self-Sealing Jar, in his own kitchen. This system took the best of other’s patents, used a smaller, flatter metal disk (with a rubber-like gasket) and added a metal-ringed lid with “threads” for screwing on and off. The threaded device adhered lids to jars during the hot water “bath” allowing canning jars to seal conveniently and be reused. The only disposable item remaining was the lid. This tow-part system transformed home canning safety and is still in use today.1
Dominate Market Force
The Kerr Company became a dominate force in the market. Kerr was so convinced tithing played a large part in boosting his business, he “gratefully took to putting tithing leaflets in every case of jars.”2
In 1948, the company turned out more than 100 million jars, not far behind Muncie’s Ball Brothers Co., the biggest U.S. canning-jar maker.2 (The Ball Company was the Kerr’s biggest competitor and was generally known for duplicating Kerr’s inventions.) By 1975 the Kerr Company had the largest volume of business on record in the U.S. They owned 27 sales offices, and seven glass plants.4
For years the Kerr Canning Company had this motto which hung on the company wall: “Every time Kerr makes a dollar, God gets a dime.” In the San Francisco, California, earthquake of 1906, the Kerr factory was “miraculously saved”2 and the Kerrs credited God for backing their company. In a devastated area, their factory stood without one jar broken. Their headquarters in Los Angeles, Calif. showed the high stock they placed in God’s partnership. “The walls of the president’s office were covered with religious paintings and a well-thumbed Bible always on the desk.”2
When Mr. Kerr died in 11925, Ruth Kerr, his widow, ran Alexander H. Kerr & Co. and its subsidiary, Kerr Glass Mfg Co. Just as Mr. Kerr had been innovative in creation, Mrs. Kerr was astute in marketing. She increased the company’s output by branching out into manufacturing for industrial canners. It is said the “blue-eyed, plump, soft-spoken matron walked around her plants in sensible shoes and shuttled between factories by plane.”2
A Paternalistic Company
Running a paternalistic company, Mrs. Kerr kept employees by setting up group insurance, retirement, and medical plans, and by awarding gold badges and bonuses for excellence. Many of her employees were women and she readily promoted them to executive positions.2
True to her faith, Mrs. Kerr continued to make time for prayer meetings and choir practices, and she saw her religion and business as intertwined. “Whenever a Kerr glass furnace [was}] relit after a shutdown, a minister [was] called in to ask a blessing.”2
Until 1996, the company was a leading manufacturing of home canning supplies… The Kerr Canning Company is one of the longest-standing canning supply companies and the jars can be found today.3
Of her management, Mrs. Kerr said, “Anything I’ve done was accomplished because of what God has done.”
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1 ^a, b, “A Brief History of the Home Canning Jar. “Where to Find Pick-Your-Own Fruit and Vegetable Farms / Orchards for Local, Fresh Fruit, Vegetables and Pumpkins, Along With Canning, Freezing & Preserving Instructions. Wed. 15 June 2011.
2 ^a, b, c, d, e, f, g, h, “CORPORATIONS: The Lord Helps Those . . . –TIME.” Breaking News, Analysis, Politics, Blogs, News Photos, Video, Tech Reviews. – TIME.com. Web. 15 June 2011.
3 “Canning Recipes – Kerr Canning Lids Review.” Welcome to Www.smalldogs2.com Web. 15 June 2011.
4 “Kerr Glass Manufacturing Corporation – Lehman Brothers Collection.” Baker Library | Bloomberg Cemter. Web.
“Kerr Group Inc. – Company History.” Find Funding with Banks, Investors, and Other Funding Sources | Funding Universe. Web. 15 June 2011.