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Home preserving is a gracious response to the abundance of a particular place. Preservers are often moved to their work by where they are: a new house with what turns out to be a lemon tree, a neighbor with extra apples too tart to eat out of hand, or the fortune of a favorite hike with a hidden huckleberry patch. Similarly, Johann Carl Weck, founder of the J. WECK Company, manufacturer of the iconic WECK jars, was also inspired by place.
Weck was a teetotaler; he abstained from alcohol and was also a vegetarian. Born in 1841 outside of Frankfurt, he later lived in the historic region of Baden, now part of the German state of Baden-Württemberg, on the east bank of the Rhine River. A region of mountains and fertile valleys, southern Baden was a preserver’s paradise of plum, apple, and cherry orchards and was even well suited for growing walnuts and producing honey.
In these abundant surroundings, temperance-minded Weck was interested in a viable and appealing alternative to using fruit to make alcohol and preserving fruit in alcohol (a popular method at the time). To this end, he purchased a patent that originated with chemist Rudolph Rempel. Rempel put up the bounty of his own home garden in order to perfect his method for preserving food by boiling it in a glass jar with a rubber ring and metal lid weighted with something heavy like a rock. He secured the patent in April 1892, shortly before his untimely death in 1914.
Business took off for Weck, particularly after he reached out to George Van Eyck, a local businessman in the Lower Rhine. Van Eyck, who owned a porcelain and pottery shop, began selling Weck jars in 1895. Van Eyck outsold all other Weck purveyors in Germany, demonstrating to Weck that he was a standout salesman. The energy and mind for sales that Van Eyck brought to the young company led Weck to invite him to take over sales for the entire country. Together Weck and Van Eyck officially founded the J. Weck Company on January 1, 1900. Within two years, Weck jars began to be sold outside of Germany in countries such as France, Switzerland, and Austria.
Georg van Eyck, courtesy of J. WECK
Insisting on a comprehensive approach when selling the jars, Van Eyck always worked to educate potential customers on the practical aspects of preserving. In 1902, when Weck left the firm, providing this sort of education was one of the ways that Van Eyck continued to grow the company. Using a model that he developed when he first began selling the jars, he partnered with the experts in home preserving at the time to offer cooking classes and promote the spread of canning in religious and community centers. In keeping with this business philosophy, WECK produced a home and garden magazine for over 95 years.
As he stoked his potential customers’ interest in home preserving, Van Eyck also made improvements to the jars’ design and function. He trademarked WECK and created the strawberry logo with the word “WECK” across the center. It was one of the first trademarks in Germany, and the strawberry logo is still used by the company today.
Not surprisingly, the time around both World War I and World War II proved difficult for the company. During World War I business suffered gravely when all of WECK’s trade agreements with other European countries came to a halt and before the end of World War II, three of the company’s factories were subject to property seizures. After World War II, the company began production at a factory near Bonn, Germany, where they continue to manufacture jars, as well as other commercial glass products such as soda bottles and their ubiquitous glass blocks. The headquarters of the company are still in Öflingen, Germany, where the company was started over 100 years ago.
Contemporary WECK jars consist of a glass lid, glass jar, rubber ring, and two stainless steel clamps. The clamps, which can be removed after water-bath processing, provide the pressure that weights did in Rempel’s version of the jars. The rubber ring, which is heated to help produce a seal, is the only part of the jar that needs to be replaced with repeated use.