Remember Pyrex kitchen tools? The glass you had to throw on the driveway to break?
Until 1998, when Corning sold its Pyrex consumer division (but not industrial or laboratory applications) to World Kitchen, the same company that now makes the deficient version of Pfaltzgraff dinnerware, and Farberware pots/pans — Pyrex was made of borosilicate glass. Borosilicate is glass made of boron oxide and silica, and is sought after because it is resistant to thermal shock (like taking a prepared casserole out of the fridge or freezer and sliding it straight into the hot oven.) Normal glass would burst apart like an exploding firecracker if you took it straight from freezer to oven.) The borosilicate glass was the difference between Pyrex kitchen tools, and those made by Anchor Hocking — which were designed to look like and often be mistaken for Pyrex. Anchor Hocking charged half the price and lasted about 10 minutes before breaking under normal use in the kitchen — sometimes showering families, cooks, and their kitchens with shards of exploding glass in the process.
Borosilicate glass is a product developed at the end of the 19th century and used in kitchens for all of the 20th century. It is fairly expensive to produce compared to the cheaper “soda-lime glass” (thus the difference in price between borosilicate glass and jelly-jars.)
Chances are, if you’re using your mom’s old Pyrex casserole dish, it’s made of borosilicate glass. However, if you bought your Pyrex in the US, your casseroles and measuring cups are made of soda-lime glass. — the same stuff your soda bottles and spaghetti jars are made of. So if your new items are “popping” and breaking into chunks of useless, 1/4″ thick glass, THIS IS WHY. Soda lime glass is cheaper to make because it contains many different chemical components — and many of those can be fudged. That is, these components can use polluted, or even substituted completely and still produce a product that can be called glass.
In many cases, soda-lime glass is so thick-walled that it can be knocked against a cabinet edge with no harm (think of your Coke-bottle.) However, it is not resistant to thermal shock in the same way as borosilicate glass. It doesn’t have the fluid, crystal transparency — and is more suited to being pressed/molded into a shape than blown. These are aesthetic concerns — something World Kitchens would never give a second thought — as proven with their handling of Pfaltzgraff dinnerware.
I don’t know who runs “World Kitchen” products — famous for putting great American companies like Pfaltzgraff, Pyrex, and Farberware into outlet malls and dollar stores — but I would bet money that it is not a family that has been making pottery or glassware or flatware, or kitchen tools for generations — improving their product to be the best, most beautiful, and most lasting it can be. This has to be a company run by a CEO who has never made anything original in their life.
This is management by the golden-parachute-crowd that floats from one business to the next, making mergers and acquisitions, hiring cronies, increasing profits by cutting corners, and then moving on the next company to be destroyed by the greed of shareholders and their own philosophy that cheaper is better because it has to be replaced more often. They market based on the power of a brand-name they have acquired — without any hint that they have gutted the company that built the reputation of that brand name. They charge the same high price that the reputation could charge based on decades of consistent performance — except they have done a bait and switch con along the way. They sell you a dish labeled PYREX — but it’s really made of Coke-bottle glass.
We’re being fleeced by professional dismantlers. They buy a great company, strip it of everything that made it great, destroy its reputation and make decades of work worthless, milk it for every cheating profit they can — then they walk away — leaving an empty factory, lost jobs, and yet another pile of American junk.
Do I sound upset? Yes. I am upset. I’m always upset by this kind of corrupt capitalism.
Should Pennsylvania be upset? That is where the new Pyrex and the new Pfaltzgraff live. Previously, it was where quality American goods were made. Now, after what must have been dramatic tax breaks and financial concessions to keep jobs in Pennsylvania communities — they are producing substandard crap. The formulae are substandard. The thickness and quality of the metals is substandard. The plastics are cheap and prone to crack and crumble after just a few years. The dinnerware has so much air in it that it crumbles in the dishwasher. The “heat resistant” glass is just a lie told to sell snake oil.
Borosilicate glass was a brilliant discovery 125 years ago. It was clever and useful and was just one of the discoveries that made the modern kitchen safe, beautiful and creative.
The problem of greed, however, has become so pervasive in the world of corporate takeovers and acquisitions, golden parachutes, and management by temporary secretaries shuttled from one company to another by high-end headhunters, that Pyrex has lost its position in the American market. Even as recently as 15 years ago, Pyrex was, like Kleenex and Coke — so widely mistaken as a generic category label that hardly any of us realized that not ALL borosilicate glass was made by Pyrex. We went to the drugstore and got a Coke — even if it was a grape soda. We used a Kleenex when we sneezed, even if it was made by some other company. And we used a Pyrex baking dish for our pies — even if they were made by some other borosilicate glass manufacturer.
Since the late 1990’s however, complaint after complaint has been filed with the Consumer Products Safety Commission about the hazards associated with the “new” Pyrex, made by World Kitchens. It explodes in ovens, pops, cracks and shatters when set on cold or wet countertops and tables — it just isn’t the Pyrex consumers thought they were buying. It isn’t the Pyrex we’d been led to believe we were buying. World Kitchens is lying to the public by calling its cheap, worthless glass by a name that had become synonymous with — and had become the generic usage name of — high quality, chemically sound, borosilicate glass. It is today no better than Anchor Hocking, or any “dollar-store” glass dish. This is yet another case of “take the money and run” corrupt capitalism. One more reason why we in the US are no longer competitive in the global market.
For the complete report on all this — you can read about the Consumer Reports test of the new Pyrex soda-lime glass that compares it to both Anchor Hocking known-to-be-unsafe wares, older borosilicate Pyrex, and other borosilicate product. It will break your heart to read how low the standards for American products have gone.
There is still borosilicate glass being made and used. In fact — in Europe, it is still used to make Pyrex products. (!)
It is still used to make laboratory equipment, optical devices, and a variety of temperature specific technologies. It’s used for most of the products made by the European companies, Bodum (beautiful tea pots, cups, coffee presses etc) and Luigi Bormioli (artfully designed glassware, cups, shot glasses, fruit bowls etc.) — though both Bodum and Bormioli tend to make some of their products so paper-thin that even though they will stand up to an abrupt temperature change, they may not stand up to a teaspoon clacking against their rim. Both Bodum and Bormioli (and many other designers) have used borosilicate glass to great effect in producing beautiful serving pieces, and a string of double walled-insulated cups and glasses that can serve hot drinks without needing a handle — a design miracle since handles break off so easily with use; and which can be used to prepare and serve iced drinks and frozen desserts without the disadvantage of condensation.
Here are some of my favorite contemporary pieces of Borosilicate glassware.
Sadly, none of them are made in America, or by American Companies.