The family company that invented the snow globe
- 23 December 2013
- From the section Business
Erwin Perzy III knows a thing or two about making it snow - it's the family business.
The 57-year-old Austrian is the grandson of the man widely acknowledged as the inventor of the snow globe. His grandfather, the first Erwin Perzy, came up with the idea by accident in 1900.
Mass production started in Vienna in 1905, and 108 years later, the company - Original Vienna Snow Globes - is still going strong.
Mr Perzy III has been in charge since the early 1980s and the company, despite having only 30 employees, 15 of which work from home, produces about 200,000 snow globes a year.
Unlike cheaper rivals from the Far East, the company's snow globes are handpainted and manually assembled, and the actual globe is still made of glass rather than plastic.
Despite the company's small size, and relative obscurity among those not knowledgeable about snow globes, it continues to have some illustrious customers.
Recently it has made globes for US President Barack Obama's children, and in the past it has produced them for former White House incumbents Bill Clinton and the late Ronald Reagan.
And the snow globe that falls and smashes so dramatically at the start of the 1941 movie Citizen Kane was made by Original Vienna Snow Globes.
Mr Perzy III, who took over the running of the company from his father, Mr Perzy II, says it was never in doubt that he would join the family business.
"I like it, it is like a hobby," he says.
"I think I'm not very important, [but] the snow globe is a thing which gives some magic and enchantment to people."
Mr Perzy I, a surgical instruments mechanic, accidentally created the first snow globe in 1900 as a result of an experiment to try to improve the brightness of the newly invented - and then not very bright - electric light bulb.
He was inspired by the shoemakers of the time, who to get more light from a candle mounted a glass globe filled with water in front of the flame. This gave them a light spot the size of a hand.
This was the principle that Mr Perzy I wanted to re-create in front of a light bulb, but found that it did not work very well.
His grandson picks up the story: "And one day he found a white powder, semolina, used for baby food. And he poured it into the glass globe, and it got soaked by the water and floated very slowly to the base of the globe. This effect reminded him of snowfall.
"And this was the very first, the basic idea for inventing a snow globe."
The next step was to add a miniature diorama, which for the first 40 years of production was always a church.
Erwin Perzy II took over from his father after the Second World War and introduced different designs, such as Christmas trees, Father Christmas and snowmen figurines.
Mr Perzy II also introduced a new material for the artificial snow, which remains a company secret.
'They are enchanted'
The company now has 350 different designs in its standard range, but thousands of others that customers can specially order. Customised orders make up 20% of total sales.
There are four different sizes of globes, and some suppliers will not ship them in very cold weather in case the water freezes, expands and cracks the glass.
Mr Perzy III says he continues to be most enthused about the business when he sees how excited children are as they visit his factory, which doubles as a museum for all things snow globe.
"Nowadays kids have everything... I mean, they have computers and lots of other electronic things, and our snow globe has nothing, no battery, no nothing," he says.
"And when the kids come here, their eyes are wide open, they are enchanted, and everyone has one or two snow globes in their hands, and they are shaking them. That is a very nice moment for me."
Looking to the future, Mr Perzy's daughter is going to eventually take over the reins.
He says: "My daughter is 24 years old, and at the moment she is working on taking over the business in 10 years from now. She is doing a very good job here."