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From Value One, Spring 2010 No.28  

 

An increasing number of young men and women are carrying vacuum bottles with them to their offices or while they enjoy the outdoors. There is a number of reasons for this trend, such as wishing to be more health conscious by having a hot drink always on hand, looking for a more eco-friendly alternative to disposable items, and needing to be more frugal due to the economic downturn.

A vacuum bottle is made of an outer bottle and an inner bottle with a vacuum between the two structures, which minimizes the transfer of heat. The history of the vacuum bottle is said to date back to 1892, when British chemist James Dewar developed a prototype of the vacuum bottle, which was a vacuum flask used to preserve liquid oxygen. In Japan, a company in Osaka called Nihon Denkyu made the first attempt to produce a vacuum bottle in 1912. Osaka was a center of the glass industry in this country, and the vacuum technology used in making lightbulbs was adapted to manufacture glass-lined vacuum bottles. These vacuum bottles were very expensive in Japan, and very few were sold. After World War I, however, Western colonialists in Southeast Asia found the local water undrinkable, and most Western nations began importing Japanese vacuum bottles. The vacuum bottles eventually enjoyed explosive sales, and some 40 vacuum-bottle manufacturers began business in Osaka before World War II. Exports of their products to the rest of Asia climbed.

Stainless steel vacuum bottles were developed in 1978. Nippon Sanso Corporation (today's Taiyo Nippon Sanso Corporation) employed its stainless steel machining technology, which was used in fabricating storage tanks for cryogenic liquefied gases, to successfully produce the world's first stainless steel vacuum bottle. Glass vacuum bottles had the disadvantage of being fragile, but stainless steel vacuum bottles were sturdy and machinable and overwhelmed the market overnight. Today, stainless steel vacuum bottles hold a more than 90% share in the domestic market for vacuum bottles. Now, Japanese manufacturers of this product are meeting competition from China; the manufacturing center is shifting from Osaka to overseas locations, particularly in Southeast Asia; and foreign-made products are being imported to Japan.

According to the Committee of Stainless Steel Vacuum Flasks, approximately 12.7 million stainless steel vacuum bottles were shipped out in 2009, a record high. A vacuum bottle is called maho-bin (magic bottle) in Japan, and this container, which was invented more than 100 years ago and keeps things "magically" warm, is now a must for young people when they go out.


Zojirushi's first stainless steel vacuum bottle, the Tuffboy, made in 1982



President Shigeyuki Ichikawa of Zojirushi Corporation inspects the company's Kozu plant in Osaka in 1953.




Currently, stainless steel vacuum bottles are mostly produced at overseas plants, such as this one, Union Zojirushi Co., Ltd. in Thailand.

Vacuum Bottles & Air Pots Pavilion
1-20-5, Tenma, Kita-ku, Osaka (first floor of Zojirushi Corporation's head office building)
Hours: 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 noon and 1:00 to 4:00 p.m. (closed on Saturdays, Sundays, and national holidays); free admission
To make a reservation, please call +81-6-6356-2340 (between 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. on weekdays).
Note: Visitors are accepted on a reservation basis only. If you would like to visit the pavilion, please indicate when (day and hour) and how many people will go.


In 2008, Zojirushi Corporation marked its 90th anniversary with the opening of the Vacuum Bottles & Air Pots Pavilion on the first floor of its head office building. Exhibits in the pavilion trace the history of vacuum bottles and variations thereof from the Meiji era (1868–1912), when vacuum-bottle production began in Japan, to the present and include many of Zojirushi's product lines. Mr. Shigemitsu Awazu, director of the pavilion, says, "The vacuum insulation technology embodied in vacuum bottles has developed into diverse products, including tabletop hot water dispensers and rice cookers. The pavilion presents the history of vacuum bottles alongside that of Zojirushi's products."
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