VIENNA, Austria (AP) – As his grandson tells it, it began as a project by a man trying to build stronger lights for Vienna’s operating room. Instead, the first snow globe was born.

More than 100 years later, a Vienna craftsman has turned his grandfather’s fluke discovery into an enterprise beloved the world over.

“I have customers everywhere, even the Falkland Islands,” Erwin Perzy said.

He says he sells 300,000 globes a year from his busting-at-the-corners Vienna workshop, where machines that make the plastic molds for his figurines vie for space with a showroom and a “museum” featuring signature pieces.

Orders range from consignments in the hundreds to individual items with a history.

Among the most treasured is a “confetti globe” made for friends of Bill Clinton. As Perzy relates it, the globe, filled with glitter thrown at Clinton’s presidential inauguration parade, had pride of place on the U.S. president’s desk until he turned the Oval Office over to George W. Bush.

“Cartier of New York made the base from sterling silver and they engraved the presidential emblem on it,” said Perzy, proudly hefting a copy of his creation to set off a glittering light show.

There’s also a replica of the globe ordered up by Ronald Reagan’s friends for his ranch, and a copy of the classic made by Perczy’s father for “Citizen Kane.”

Customers include Dubai’s Education Ministry, and children in the dry and dusty Gulf state have been able to stir up a regular blizzard. A tip, shake or nudge of one of Perzy’s globes on their school desks sends white flakes swirling around Christmas motifs.

Most of the dozens of pieces in Perzy’s workroom have Christmas scenes, but Perzy says he will make anything – “except for war themes; they have nothing to do with Christmas.”

So some of the globes have unorthodox centerpieces. One ordered for an Austrian lingerie chain features a lissome young woman clad in the barest necessities. Others have snowmen holding cell phones. When shaken, the globe ordered by Austria’s state oil and gasoline company shows a gas station being snowed under.

Grandpa Perzy might be proud of what his chance discovery 104 years ago has wrought.

He was trying to build a stronger light for surgeries. So he added semolina flakes to a glass water-filled globe used by shoemakers of the time as a magnifying glass. The idea was to increase refraction. Instead, he created a snow globe.

“He was fascinated by the idea,” said Perzy. “And when friends liked it he decided to make a job out of it.”

Business has grown since then – as has the competition.

There are snow globes from Germany and Japan, but Perzy says he isn’t worried. He has a patent out on his “snow,” which, he says, falls much more slowly than the others. And parts of the workshop are off-limits to visitors to protect his manufacturing secrets.

“People know to buy quality,” he says of his globes, which cost between $7 and $28, depending on size.

Some things haven’t changed much since his grandfather made his first globe.

“I am reluctant to sign contracts,” Perzy said. “I prefer oral agreements, and I’ve never been disappointed, even on big orders.”

The joy of working to make others happy also is a tradition that has survived into the third generation, says the 48-year old entrepreneur.

“If it were just a job then you wouldn’t find me here late in the evening, early in the morning and sometimes on Saturdays and Sundays,” he said.

“When I make a special design or a new design then I’m happier than the customer – and I still get a kick out of how the snow falls.”

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AP-ES-12-20-04 0254EST

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