Residents of Hennepin County are always thinking up new ways to stay warm during our frigid winters. About seventy years ago, John W. Smith of Minneapolis invented a product called the Jon-e (pronounced “Johnny”) handwarmer. Advertisements for the device referred to it as a “personal radiator” and a “pocket furnace.” With marketing like that, it’s easy to see why the product became so popular among those who spent time outdoors in cold temperatures.
Smith was awarded a patent for his invention on December 25, 1951. The design of the Jon-E can be seen below. An article about the handwarmer in the Minneapolis Tribune in 1953 remarked that it looked like an oversized cigarette lighter. The chrome-plated device comes in two parts with an internal burner. It also comes with a red flannel carrying case, and a set of instructions. The handwarmer in the museum’s collection was donated in 1989 by Fred Amram of Minneapolis.
To use the Jon-e, the user first separated the perforated top and burner from the base and filled it with lighter fluid. Next, the user reassembled the device and lit the burner. The burner itself never ignited into a flame but did glow softly. The warmer would then be allowed to burn for a few minutes before being placed into its flannel bag. Then the user tucked the Jon-e inside their mittens to enjoy the warmth wherever they went for up to twenty-four hours.
The Jon-e was manufactured at Aladdin Laboratories, Inc. of Minneapolis, where Smith was president. Aladdin was founded in 1930 and originally created cosmetic products until Smith developed the Jon-e. At the height of production in the fifties and sixties, the factory produced 10,000 warmers a day. In the following decade, Aladdin went out of business. Although, vintage Jon-e handwarmers can still be purchased online as the product was durable enough that it developed a reputation for longevity and reliability. The Jon-e was and is mainly used by hunters and fisherman, but Smith himself said, “The handwarmer market includes just about everyone who would rather be warm than cold.” It’s safe to say that includes all of us.
Written by Alyssa Thiede
Minnesota’s Famous Trademarks. “Hunter Turns Cold Hands into Hot Profit,” Minneapolis Tribune, October 7, 1956. Star Tribune Archive.
Smith, John W. Hand Warmer. U.S. Patent 2,579,620 filed May 8, 1948, and issued December 25, 1951.
Soderlind, Sterling. “Jon-E Handwarmer Heats the Spot, Turns Cold Hands into Hot Business,” Minneapolis Tribune, December 26, 1954. Star Tribune Archive.
This publication was made possible in part by the people of Minnesota through a grant funded by an appropriation to the Minnesota Historical Society from the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund. Any views, findings, opinions, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the State of Minnesota, the Minnesota Historical Society, or the Minnesota Historic Resources Advisory Committee.