Visit Snow Globe Museum in Vienna, Austria

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A childhood toy, a thoughtful gift, a memento. Snow globes appear to be almost timeless. A trip to an obscure museum in Vienna, however, reveals the origins of one of the world’s most popular souvenirs.

The Snow Globe Museum is a hidden gem off the beaten path, perched on the outskirts of town but easily accessible by public transportation. Only a small sign on the door informs the visitor of what is inside.

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When you arrive at the Snow Globe Museum, a staff member will take you on a 20-minute tour. The story begins in the room where the first snow globe was created. There are photos, framed documents, and tools on display. A step-by-step demonstration of how to make snow globes is also provided. Guests can purchase special souvenirs celebrating their visit at the end of the tour.

The most fascinating aspect, however, is learning how some of the first snow globes were created more than a century ago.

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A surgeon asked Erwin Perzy, a medical instrument technician, to make the Edison light bulb brighter for his operating room in Vienna at the turn of the twentieth century. Perzy was inspired by shoemakers who used to fill a globe with water and place it in front of a candle to magnify lighting. To enhance the effect, Perzy filled the water globe with tinsel first, then with white grit to reflect the light from the bulb. Unfortunately, the plan did not work. The particles that were added floated to the bottom and no longer increased light.

But Perzy’s effect with the white grit captivated him. It reminded him of snow falling.

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A souvenir handler and friend asked Perzy to make a miniature of the Basilica of the Birth of the Virgin Mary while he was experimenting with the water globe (to this day, the basilica is the most important pilgrimage site in Austria). Perzy made the miniature out of pewter from his medical instrument shop. He then decided to use the white grit to place the miniature in the glass water globe. The first snow globe was made.

Perzy realized he was on to something. He received a patent for his “Glass Globe With Snow Effect” in 1900. Perzy experimented with various scenic miniatures and white materials to simulate snow from 1900 to 1905.

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He was finally satisfied with his concept in 1905. He established Firm Perzy and began manufacturing snow globes in Vienna with great success.

In 1908, his invention drew the attention of Austrian Emperor Franz Josef I, who bestowed a special award on Perzy for his toy designs. The snow globe was a big hit.

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However, the concept of the snow globe was not entirely novel. A snow globe-like object was displayed at the Paris World Fair in 1878. Perzy, unaware of this, continued with his experiment, giving the keepsakes the necessary push.

Perzy’s descendants carry on the family legacy. Erwin Perzy II was the first to bring the product to the United States. Erwin Perzy III renamed Firm Perzy the Original Viennese Snowglobe and opened the Snow Globe Museum around 1990.

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Expansion has continued, and special orders have been placed. The company was asked to make a snow globe out of confetti from Bill Clinton’s inauguration party. The Snow Globe Museum houses a replica of the original. As a special gift, the company was also commissioned to create a snow globe for President Obama’s younger daughter.

In Vienna, 200,000 original snow globes are produced each year. There are over 2,000 scenes to choose from, all of which are hand-painted. If that isn’t enough, Perzy III, a machinist by trade, creates whatever miniature model his customers desire in the same building where his grandfather founded the company more than a century ago.

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