Women and Pyrex

Bessie Cook Littleton

Bessie Cook Littleton, about 1910
Courtesy of the Littleton Archives

Pyrex became a reality when Bessie Littleton, wife of Corning Glass Works physicist Jesse Littleton, baked a sponge cake in a sawed-off battery jar made of Pyrex and proved glass could be used in the oven. From product testing to design to marketing, women were involved in Pyrex every step of its journey to the kitchens of America.

Evelyn Roberts was young laboratory physicist employed at Corning Glass Works. In 1917, Roberts was photographed atop the roof of Corning Glass Work’s Mixing Building 38, pouring a kettle of boiling water over a Pyrex dish caked in ice to demonstrate its thermal endurance. The image of that ice-encrusted glass withstanding boiling water appeared in many early Pyrex ads.

Evelyn Roberts

Evelyn Roberts, about 1917-1918
Courtesy of the Corning Incorporated Department of
Archives & Records Management, Corning, NY

Before Pyrex was even on the market, Corning Glass Works took prototypes to Mildred Maddocks and Sarah Tyson Rorer, household names to the millions of women who read Ladies’ Home Journal and Good Housekeeping. Endorsements from Rorer and Maddocks, printed in ads and magazine columns persuaded many Americans to give Pyrex a try.

In 1929, home economist Dr. Lucy Maltby was hired by Corning Glass Works to oversee consumer relations. Listening to consumers, Maltby and her colleagues began to evaluate Pyrex using the test kitchen Maltby founded. Under Maltby’s direction staff rigorously tested Pyrex, then suggested design changes based on the results. The Pyrex cake pan is one example. After Maltby’s staff suggested adding handles and changing the size and shape to suit modern cooks’ needs, sales of the new cake pan increased 1,000 %.

Field agent Jessie Johnston making a television appearance

Field agent Jessie Johnston making a television
appearance, 1953
Courtesy of the Corning Incorporated Department of
Archives & Records Management, Corning, NY

Maltby also instituted a program to train field service personnel. Under her supervision, these women logged thousands of miles flying cross-country to appear on radio and television, at trade shows, and in department stores training local sales people. In 1946 Lillian Ziegfeld covered the northern United States, Verna McCallum covered the South, Jessie Johnston had the Midwest; and Josephine Blanch covered the Rocky Mountains and West Coast. These women, along with millions of consumers, helped to make Pyrex “America’s Favorite Dish.”

Interested in learning more about Pyrex? Check out our exhibit, America’s Favorite Dish: Celebrating a Century of Pyrex, opening June 6, 2015, at The Corning Museum of Glass.

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