Snow globes are one of those totally useless things that still fascinate us, from the kitschy plastic souvenirs tourists pick up to baby jar crafts our kids made to the expensive collector’s globes with music boxes inside. How did anyone come up with this odd idea in the first place? One story tells us it was sort of an accident, born out of the quest to make Edison’s light bulbs brighter.
Back in 1900, Erwin Perzy I was working in Vienna as a fine instruments mechanic when a surgeon came to him with a problem. Although the surgeon had electric light bulbs installed in his operating theater, the newly invented product didn't cast great light. He wanted to know if Perzy could improve on the dim bulbs and make them brighter. So he got to work. As Perzy hunted for inspiration, he noticed that shoemakers had stumbled into an interesting trick: By filling glass globes with water and placing them in front of candles, they created tiny spotlights in their shops.
Spoiler: it didn’t work, but what he came up with was pretty, and Perzy eventually patented his snow globe. The kicker is that he wasn’t the first to build one! Many technical and cultural innovations followed over the next hundred years, which you can read about at mental_floss.
(Image credit: Noël Zia Lee)