The Accidental Origin Of The Snow Globe

Snow globes are one of the more beloved and collectible tchotchkes out there. The way in which the "snow" floats around the globe is mesmerizing. The drifting snow effect was also a happy accident.

Per the BBC, in 1900, surgical instruments mechanic Erwin Perzy of Vienna, Austria, was performing experiments in order to improve the brightness of then newly invented electric light bulbs. Shoemakers at the time used the trick of putting candles in front of glass globes of water in order to create a diffused spotlight. Inspired, Perzy attempted to recreate this effect in front of a light bulb. It didn't work, but according to his grandson, Erwin Perzy III, Perzy poured semolina, a powder made from durum wheat, into the glass globe, at which point it got soaked by the water and floated to the bottom of the globe in a manner reminiscent of falling snow. Inspired, Perzy added a miniature church to create a scene, and invented the first snow globe.

For the first 40 years of production, all snow globe scenes included a church. According to Go World Travel, Perzy called his invention "Glassball with Snow Effect" and applied for a patent. Mass production began in 1905 and the company, Original Vienna Snow Globes, was born.

Snowglobes are a Perzy family tradition

After World War II, reported the BBC, Perzy's son, Edwin Perzy II, took over Original Vienna Snow Globes and expanded the designs to include Christmas trees, Father Christmas, and snowmen. He also introduced a new material to serve as the globes' snow, the makeup of which is a closely guarded company secret.

Today, there are over 350 standard designs available, and each snow globe continues to be painted and assembled by hand. Twenty percent of the snow globes sold are custom creations; Original Vienna Snow Globes has created custom globes for Sasha and Malia Obama, as well as former presidents Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan. One of the more notorious snow globes in pop culture history, the one that smashes at the beginning of the movie Citizen Kane, was an Original Vienna Snow Globes original.

Today, the company is still in the family, headed by Edwin Perzy III since the early 1980s. He employs just 30 employees, 15 of whom work from their homes, and produces around 200,000 snow globes each year. Per the company's web site, 2020 designs include snow globes featuring toilet paper and a snowman wearing a protective surgical mask.