Don't It Make Your Ball Jars Blue? or: Just What Made the Famous Ball Blue Glass Color? -- The Hoosier Slide, Indiana


"It's all in the sand, baby!"

At one of our Findlay Bottle Club meetings, Jeff passed around a fruit jar that was a smooth-lip Mason's 1858, but in the familiar shade of aqua-ish-blue of Ball fruit jars. It is conventional wisdom that all "Ball Blue"-color jars were made by Ball (as no other fruit jar maker has jars in this famous shade), so it stands to reason that this Mason's 1858 was also made by Ball.  
What's up with "Ball Blue", you might ask? Why is only Ball glass that particular shade of blue? Jeff's answer --  "It's all in the sand, baby!"
Most of us know glass is made from sand. You might not have known that glass color comes from the mineral content in the sand that's used to make the glass. So, we wondered what was different about the sand that Ball used? How come no other company had sand that made their jars that particular shade? And why did Ball stop making jars in the signature color?

Turns out it was the sand from the once famous Indiana landmark, called the HOOSIER SLIDE in Michigan City, Indiana.

Vintage postcards of the Hoosier Slide.

Once the largest sand dune on Lake Michigan, the Hoosier Slide was a tree-covered tourist attraction, used for picnics and even weddings. 

Visitors enjoyed sliding down the loose sands.

Then stripped of its timber by the 1870's, it became a sand-blowing nuisance. 

Commercial sand mining began about 1890, when the Monon Railroad built a switching track along the south side of the dune. 

Also in 1890, natural gas was discovered in central Indiana, and glass factories started in the Muncie area. Large users of Hoosier Slide sand were the Ball Brothers in Muncie, Pittsburg Plate Glass in Kokomo, and the nearby Hemingway Glass Co.

The sand was found to be good for glass making, and thus the once loved Hoosier Slide was sold off, wheelbarrow by wheelbarrow. The great sand dune was reduced to nothing.

W. Manny Dieckilman, the son of a man who worked the Hoosier slide shares this info about the 3 men pictured at lower left of this postcard:

"The 3 men pictured on the train tracks with Hoosier Slide in the background are: left, Dan Hutton, Train Master of the Monon Railroad” center, on tracks is Henry Dieckilman, Foreman (working there for 25 plus years), on right, William Manny, owner of Hoosier Slide."
"Although I hold no memory of my father, who died when I was three in 1921, I am forever conscious of the footprints remaining from his labors in the late 1890's and early 1900's. For twenty-five years, six days a week, he pushed an iron-wheeled wheelbarrow, moving sand from Hoosier Slide onto gondola carts headed for the manufacturing of canning jars.." --W. Manny Dieckilman 

Henry Dieckelman is listed in the Michigan City, City Directory, 1913, as the Foreman of the Hoosier Slide Sand Co. [Source]

According to "Naturalization records : abstractions from declaration of intentions, Superior Court, Michigan City, La Porte County, Indiana", Henry came from Germany in 1880. (Note the different spelling of his last name from his son, W. Manny Dieckilman.) [Source]

Read more of W. Manny Dieckilman's memories on

William B. Manny, proprietor of the Hoosier Slide Sand Company, is profiled in a1904 book [here].

Dan Hutton was listed in the Railroad Switchmens Union in 1901 [Source] as Michigan City's Monon Yardmaster [Source].

According to the Michigan City Public Library:
Once Indiana's most famous landmark, Hoosier Slide was a huge sand dune bordering the west side of Trail Creek where it entered Lake Michigan. At one time it was nearly 200 feet tall, mantled with trees. Cow paths marked its slopes and people picnicked upon its crest. Climbing Hoosier Slide was very popular in the late 1800's with the excursionist crowds who arrived in town by boat and train from Chicago and other cities. The summit, where weddings were sometimes held, afforded an excellent view of the vast lumberyards which then covered the Washington Park area.
With the development of Michigan City, the timber was cut for building construction and the sand began to blow, sometimes blanketing the main business district of the town on Front St., which nestled near its base.
When it was discovered that the clean sands of Hoosier Slide were useful for glassmaking, the huge dune began to be mined away. Dock workers loaded the sand into railroad cars with shovel and wheelbarrow to be shipped to glassmakers [and other places].
Over a period of 30 years, from about 1890 to 1920, 13 1/2 million tons of sand were shipped from Hoosier Slide until the great dune was leveled. By the 1920's, nothing remained of the giant dune. 

In 1929, NIPSCO (Northern Indiana Public Service Company) built a power plant on the Hoosier Slide site.

I don't know exactly what geologic event caused the Hoosier Slide's sand to have just the right mineral mix to create the famous Ball Blue glass color, but it was apparently something special that didn't turn up in any other fruit jar makers glass. There are many shades of aqua and blue in the fruit jar world, but only the one BALL BLUE.

Ball has come close with these new blue jars, but even they could not reproduce Hoosier Slide/Ball Blue glass.

Once the Hoosier Slide sand was all used up, Ball had to get another source, and the glass formula was forever changed. No more pretty Ball Blue glass.
Hoosier Slide sand analysis from Crown Jewels (Insulators).

Here's an excerpt from the Bottle Colors page on Bill Lindsey's phenominal Historic Glass Bottle Identification site —

Aqua glass is a "natural" result of the iron impurities found in most sands. It is very rare (maybe unknown) that sand does not contain some traces of iron. Sand deposits with very low iron content were (and probably still are) highly valued commodities. Although good quality sand was plentiful in the Eastern United States, some was still being imported from Belgium for Western American glass factories as late as the 1940s. Aqua glass is the result of sand which is relatively low in the amount of iron which was not off-set by de-colorizing agents. High levels of iron produce darker greens, black glass, and even amber. Natural aqua glass was often called "green glass," "bottle glass," or "bottle glass green" by glass makers.
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