The Unique Creation of Vaseline Glass: What Do You Mean, “Radioactive”?

Dinner is served!

Next time you visit the Lodge House at the Packard Proving Grounds, head to the formal dining room. You’ll see the carved wooden table that originally stood in one of the board rooms of the Detroit Packard plant. You’ll also see the beautiful arrangement of antique china and glassware that was donated to the site.

Please be seated!

The glassware is immediately noticeable – the strange, alien-green color is almost incongruous with its delicate design. And history buffs might think that it’s Depression glass, for two reasons. One, Depression glass came in several colors, green being one of them. Two, the Lodge House was largely built and designed in the late 1920s and early 1930s. We’ve tried specifically to recreate how the house may have looked in the 1930s when restoring the building. So with this in mind, Depression glass would be a good fit for this staging.

It’s a good guess! But these pieces aren’t Depression glass. Instead, they’re even more unique: uranium glass.

What is uranium glass?

This type of glass is also called “Vaseline glass” because some pieces were fired to be an oily yellow color in hue, rather than green. Regardless, uranium glass is so named because of the inclusion of uranium dioxide into the glass’ formula. Admittedly, colored glass varieties like this have some kind of elemental signature that creates their specific hue. In this case, uranium is the obvious inclusion.

But turning the glass green or yellow isn’t the only trick up its sleeve. When exposed to black light, uranium glass glows bright fluorescent green. This is how conscientious collectors confirm that their pieces are authentic.

Uranium inclusion in the glass also makes it ever-so-slightly radioactive. But the traces are so minute – 0.1% or 0.2% of its composition – that displaying Vaseline glass is harmless. A good thing, too, because it’s amazing to look at.

Just don’t drink from it, okay?

Interested in learning more about the history of Vaseline glass? These two sites have some great informational content – click on the titles below to read what they have to say.

“Overview and History of Vaseline Glass” by Pamela Wiggins (published on The Spruce Crafts)

“Antique Spotlight: If You Own Any Uranium/Vaseline Glass, Check This Out!”, by Greater Life Publishing (published on Dusty Old Thing)

Do you have original Packard documents, photographs, publications, or memorabilia that might be of value to the Packard Proving Grounds Library and Archives? Contact the site for information about our collection focus and donation policies.