Indeed, the snow globe appeared at a time when upper-middle-class families, newly wealthy following the Industrial Revolution, began collecting intricate, artistic objects and displaying them in their homes. Though it’s unclear exactly how much these early globes cost, they were expensive due to the amount of time necessary to paint, mold, and assemble them. After World War I concluded in 1918, a boost in tourism led to greater demand for eye-catching souvenirs—especially snow globes.
Gradually, news of the whimsical trinket reached America. In 1927, a man from Pittsburgh named Joseph Garaja applied for the first snow globe patent there, and with it, he introduced a radical new method: underwater assembly. This ensured that each globe would be fully filled with liquid and saved a significant amount of time and money—transforming the snow globe from an expensive indulgence into the affordable commodity we know today.
Within a few years, snow globes were being sold for as little as $1 (around $19 today) at concession stands across America, and before long, they reached Hollywood. The 1940 Oscar-nominated drama Kitty Foyle
, which used one as a plot device to trigger flashback scenes, contributed to a 200-percent increase in sales, according to
collectors and authors Connie Moore and Harry Rinker. And in 1941, the Orson Welles epic Citizen Kane
featured a snow globe, too—made by none other than Erwin Perzy—in its now-legendary opening sequence
, wherein Charles Kane dies while holding a glass sphere containing a wintery miniature log cabin, which falls and shatters on the ground.
By the middle of the century, snow globes had become an American phenomenon. Brands employed them for advertising, and they were even used to promote civilian morale during World War II, with tiny soldiers becoming common additions. Innovations in plastic production and injection-molding during the 1950s further improved the snow globe—pricey particles used for the “snow” were replaced with cheap plastic “flitter,” while glycol mixed with water helped it fall more slowly. The product could be found in gift shops across the country, becoming a highly sought-after souvenir during the post-war tourism boom; Walt Disney’s earliest-known snow globe, one with a miniature Bambi, dates to 1959.
Traditional snow globes have largely remained the same since then, though most are now made of Plexiglas and produced in foreign countries. Still, there’s a big market for high-quality, hand-crafted glass globes: The Viennese Perzy family continues to produce thousands each year, with clients including former U.S. presidents Bill Clinton, who had confetti-filled globes at one of his inauguration parties, and Barack Obama, who once gifted an original Austrian snow globe to his daughters.