Morning name: Pyrex

This morning’s name, for a type of glass, as in this measuring cup:

The Wikipedia page focuses on the different types of glass at issue and the companies that have made them. More interesting to me is the source of the name Pyrex, which is not known for sure.

The industrial story:

Pyrex (trademarked as PYREX) is a brand introduced by Corning Incorporated in 1915 for a line of clear, low-thermal-expansion borosilicate glass used for laboratory glassware and kitchenware. Pyrex sold in the United States is now made of tempered glass, outside of North America the costlier borosilicate is still used.

Corning no longer manufactures or markets Pyrex-branded borosilicate glass kitchenware and bakeware in the US, but Pyrex borosilicate products are still manufactured under license by various companies. World Kitchen, LLC, which was spun off from Corning in 1998, licensed the Pyrex brand for their own line of kitchenware products — differentiated by their use of clear tempered soda-lime glass instead of borosilicate.

Borosilicate glass was first made by German chemist and glass technologist Otto Schott, founder of Schott AG in 1893, 22 years before Corning produced the Pyrex brand. Schott AG sold the product under the name “Duran”.

In 1908, Eugene Sullivan, director of research at Corning Glass Works, developed Nonex, a borosilicate low-expansion glass, to reduce breakage in shock-resistant lantern globes and battery jars. Sullivan had learned about Schott’s borosilicate glass as a doctoral student in Leipzig, Germany. Jesse Littleton of Corning discovered the cooking potential of borosilicate glass by giving his wife a casserole dish made from a cut-down Nonex battery jar. Corning removed the lead from Nonex and developed it as a consumer product. Pyrex made its public debut in 1915 during World War I, positioned as an American-produced alternative to Duran.

But on to the interesting stuff. From a Corning executive (as reported in American Speech 32.290 (1957)):

The word PYREX is probably a purely arbitrary word which was devised in 1915 as a  trade-mark for products manufactured and sold by Corning Glass Works. While some people have thought that it was made up from the Greek pyr and the Latin rex we have always taken the position that no graduate of Harvard would be guilty of such a classical hybrid [AZ: well, there’s television and a number of others]. Actually, we had a number of prior trade-marks ending in the letters ex [AZ: fairly popular for new substances and materials, like perspex and spandex, though these are not from Corning]. One of the first commercial products to be sold under the new mark was a pie plate and in the interests of euphonism [AZ: read: euphony] the letter r was inserted between pie and ex and the whole thing condensed to PYREX.

Not a very convincing supposition. More likely, it seems to me, is Greek pyr– ‘fire’ plus the ‘substance, material’ suffix –ex. But the OED buys the Corning executive’s story as reported in AmSp.

2 Responses to “Morning name: Pyrex”

  1. markonsea Says:

    According to Adrian Room’s Dictionary of Trade Name Origins, the first name suggested for the pie dish was “Pie Right”. This is where, when the “-ex” ending was adopted (which Corning had previously used for its products), the R came from.

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