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At the end of the 19th century, an Austrian producer of surgical instruments invented the so-called Schneekugel. Originally his goal was to develop an extra bright lightsource for use as a surgical lamp. As he tried to intensify the candlepower of a so-called Schusterkugel (a water filled flask used to focus light since the Middle Ages) with particles made out of different materials for reflection purpose, the effect reminded him of snowfall and it's said that by this he got the idea for a snow globe.
Snow globes were exhibited at he Paris Exhibition of 1878 and by 1879 at least five or more companies were producing and selling snow globes throughout Europe. They became very much in vogue in the Art Deco period. Snow globes became fashionable in England as well, and, in the early 1920s, crossed the Atlantic to the United States of America where they became a popular collectors item.