The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Glass Manufacturing in America

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The Encyclopedia Americana
Glass Manufacturing in America
Edition of 1920. See also History of glass#United States on Wikipedia, and the disclaimer.

GLASS MANUFACTURING IN AMERICA. A glass-house built near Jamestown in 1608, the year after Virginia was founded, was the first factory in the English colonies in America. In that year eight Poles and Germans were brought there to make ashes, soap, pitch, tar and glass. From ashes were obtained lye for making soap and potash for fluxing glass. Some glass shipped to England in 1608 or 1609 was among the first exports of the colony. Interfered with by the craze for raising tobacco, the manufacture of glass was suspended about 1615. In 1621 another glasshouse was erected in which Italians made beads for trade with Indians. One or both glasshouses were destroyed in the massacre by Indians in 1622. The next glass works in Virginia of which there is a record were at Alexandria, where 10,000 pounds were manufactured in 1787. Works established at Wellsburg, Va. (now West Virginia), in 1815, were probably the works in Brooke County reported by census as making $20,000 worth of glass in 1820. At the tariff convention, held in New York city in 1831, two flint glass furnaces were reported in operation at Wellsburg and one at Wheeling; also two window glass works at Wheeling.

The first glass-house in Massachusetts was built in Salem about 1639. To encourage the enterprise the General Court in 1641 authorized the town to lend the proprietors £30. Glass was manufactured there for perhaps 20 years or longer. The General Court of Massachusetts in 1752 granted to Isaac C. Winslow and others the exclusive privilege of making glass in the colony and they probably built a glass-house at Boston which was in operation until shortly before the Revolution. The legislature, in 1787, granted to Messrs. Whalley, Hunnewell and others a charter, which conferred on them exclusively the right to manufacture glass in Massachusetts for 15 years, and fixed the penalty for infringement at $500. The capital stock was exempted from taxation and the workmen from military duty. Furthermore, the State paid a bounty on the product, to offset a bounty on glass exports paid by England. Under this charter, the manufacture of crown window glass was begun, in 1792, and about six years later the production amounted to $82,000 per annum. The glass, known throughout the United States as “Boston window glass,” was said to be superior to any imported. This State-aided enterprise, incorporated in 1809 as the Boston Crown Glass Company, is said to have been the first successful glass works in this country. Works established in 1802 at Middlesex, now a part of Lowell, made annually, about 1820, about 330,000 feet of window glass, which at $13 a 100-foot box amounted to $43,320. In 1812 a glass-house was built at South Boston and about the same time another at East Cambridge. The one at South Boston, the first flint glass works in Massachusetts, was built by Thomas Caines, a skilled batch mixer and glass blower, who had been employed by the Boston Crown Glass Company. After the War of 1812 the business failed. The works at East Cambridge were built by the Porcelain and Glass Manufacturing Company, which employed glass workers from Europe. Unsuccessful in business, the company leased the plant to a firm of workmen, Emmet, Fisher and Flowers. They failed to agree, and, in 1817, the business was sold at auction to the New England Glass Company, which was very successful. In 1823 the weekly production was 22,400 pounds of glass vessels, many of which were equal to the product of the best English flint houses, and some of which were beautifully cut. A plant established at Sandwich, Mass., in 1825, introduced, in 1827, the making of pressed glass. Until then all glass had been either blown or cast. The shaping of glass by molds made possible the production at low cost of many articles of the same pattern.

Glass was made in New York State under both the Dutch and English régimes, but plants established before 1850 were not permanent. A plant started at Brooklyn, in 1754, existed only a short time. In 1785 Leonard De Neufville and associates, proprietors of a plant at Dowesborough, 10 miles from Albany, applied to the legislature for aid. They gave as a reason that $150,000 a year was sent abroad for glass. The legislature, in 1793, voted a loan of $3,000 for eight years, free of interest for three years and at 5 per cent for five years. By this time ownership of the works had passed from the De Neufville family to McCallen, McGregor & Company, who conducted the business successfully, but, in 1815, the works closed for lack of fuel. The South Ferry Flint Glass Company, established in 1823 at Brooklyn, had the reputation of making the finest flint glass made in the United States, and at the London Exhibition, in 1851, was awarded a medal.

In the first tariff law of the United States, enacted in 1789, Congress levied a duty of 10 per cent on various kinds of glass. Congress was petitioned, in 1790, to aid the glass works of John Frederick Amelung at New Bremen, Md. The committee of the House of Representatives to whom the petition was referred reported in favor of a loan of $8,000, security to be furnished, but the report was not adopted. In the debate the statement was made that Amelung had expended $200,000 on a plant begun in 1775. Some of the representatives considered that such a petition could be presented to the State more properly than to the Federal government, others objected to the loan on account of the precedent it would establish and others doubted the power of Congress to grant such a loan. About this time the Baltimore Glass Works began making window glass. Between 1760 and 1765, a German named Wister built a glass-house near Allowaystown, N. J. On his failure, at the beginning of the Revolution, the workmen went to Glassborough, N. J., and established a factory, which, still in operation, is the oldest glass factory in the United States. Glass works were started at Temple, N. H., in 1780, window glass works at Keene, N. H., in 1814. Glass was made at New Haven, Conn., in 1789, and at Hartford also about that time.

William Penn, in a letter written in 1683, alluded to a tannery, sawmill and glass works in his colony. In 1769 Henry William Stiegel, a German baron, established at Manheim, near Lancaster, Pa., the largest flint glass factory in the country, in which were produced richly colored bowls and goblets. The first glass works in Philadelphia of which we have a record was a plant for making green bottles and perhaps flint ware, established, in 1771, at Kensington. This plant grew until, in 1831, it was the largest glass works in the United States. It then consisted of four furnaces in which 8,000 pounds of batch were daily melted. In addition to wood and coal, the furnaces consumed 15,000 barrels of resin brought annually from North Carolina. From 250 to 300 men and boys were employed. The product included bottles and apothecaries' vials, the prices for which when imported were extravagantly high. In 1797 a window glass factory was established at Pittsburgh and another at New Geneva, on the Monongahela River, 90 miles south of Pittsburgh. These were the first glass factories west of the Alleghanies. The former was built by Maj. Isaac Craig and James O'Hara, the latter by Albert Gallatin. The former was probably the first in which coal was the fuel, and as late as 1810 wood was the fuel in all glass plants except those in or near Pittsburgh. Writing in 1803, Craig reported an average weekly production of 30 boxes of 100 feet, besides bottles and other hollow ware to the value of one-third of the value of the window glass. He wrote that 8×10 sold at $13.50 and 10×12 at $15 a box. In the earlier years of the industry most factories that made window glass made also bottles and other hollow ware. For many years the imports of window glass exceeded the domestic production.

George Robinson, a carpenter, and Edward Ensell, a glassworker from England, commenced to build a flint glass-house in Pittsburgh, but, lacking sufficient capital, they sold the unfinished plant, in 1808, to Thomas Blakewell and Robert Page who completed it, and who were the first in the United States successfully to manufacture flint glass. In this plant was produced cut glass not inferior to the best cut glass from Europe. By wagons crossing the mountains, pot clay was hauled from Burlington, N. J., and pearl ash and red lead from Philadelphia, while saltpetre was brought from the caves of Kentucky. Glassmaking in Ohio began at Cincinnati in 1815. The census of 1820 reported “glass window and hollow ware, chemical and philosophical apparatus,” to the amount of $19,000 manufactured in Hamilton County, also flint and cut glass and window glass manufactured in Muskingum County. The first glass works in Missouri, which made flint glass tumblers and other ware, were started at Saint Louis, in 1842, by a company headed by James B. Eads, who later built the Mississippi River bridge at Saint Louis and the jetties at the mouth of the river. The second glass works in Missouri, started in 1851, made window glass at Saint Louis.

The ingredients of flint glass were the best of sand, pearl ash, refined saltpetre and oxide of lead. What was known later as German flint or lime glass, a much inferior product, was composed of sand, lime, soda ash and nitrate of soda. In 1864 William Leighton, Sr., of Wheeling, conducted experiments with pure sand, lime, bicarbonate of soda and refined nitrate of soda and produced glass much clearer and more brilliant than any except flint glass. It was called bicarbonate glass at first and lime glass later. The cost for batch was not more than one-third that of a lead batch which it largely supplanted.

An exhibit of pressed glass ware, made by James B. Lyons, of the O'Hara Glass Works at Pittsburgh, received first prize at the Paris Exposition in 1867. At the Centennial Exhibition at Philadelphia, in 1876, one of the attractions was a complete glass works which showed the processes of melting, blowing, pressing, cutting, etching and annealing. The exhibit was made by Gillinder & Sons, of Philadelphia.

Pittsburgh became the centre of the industry, largely because there was in that vicinity an abundance of coal, which was used as fuel in glass-making from 1796 to late in the next century. In 1875 the Rochester Tumbler Works used natural gas for heating lears and partly for furnace heat. About 1880, when wells had been drilled that promised inexhaustible quantities, natural gas began to be very extensively used for lear heating and batch melting. It provided a cheap fuel, perfectly adapted to the industry, and thereafter glass manufacturing greatly developed in western Pennsylvania and West Virginia, and later in the gas regions of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Kansas and Oklahoma. When the supply of natural gas became exhausted many factories closed or moved to new gas fields, but in recent years many factories have begun to use artificial gas produced from coal in the plants, and some are now using oil for fuel. Even in the Pittsburgh district the price of natural gas is now so high that producer gas is used to some extent in glass making. Oil or producer gas is used by all plants east of the Alleghanies. The Eastern plants, at a disadvantage regarding natural gas, have the advantage of nearness to the larger markets.

The regenerative furnace, an invention of Siemens, first used for melting glass in 1861, was soon adopted in America. By this method the waste heat from the gases generated by combustion was utilized for heating, and much fuel was saved, the melting time reduced, the output increased and the quality of the product improved. Another revolutionary invention for batch melting was the tank. In pot furnaces the batch is melted in separate pots, which are placed around the inside furnace walls, while with tank furnaces the tank occupies the whole furnace area. There are day tanks and continuous tanks. The latter enable a plant to work to capacity 24 hours a day. Tanks were introduced into America in 1889, after they had been used in Belgium. During the last 30 years many pot furnaces have been replaced by tank furnaces. The only efficient establishments that now use pots are those that make plate glass, very fine qualities of table ware and other fine goods, or a great diversity of colored glass. Until recent times the making of glass was a handicraft, and many glass articles are still shaped by the breath of a blower. Machinery has been invented and improved chiefly for the manufacture of window glass, plate glass, bottles, table ware and lighting goods.

Crown window glass was made in Massachusetts from 1792 to 1826. A bulb was blown, opened, flared out into a disc, cut into half circles and then into panes. The cylinder process for making window glass was introduced from Europe after 1830. The cylinders, blown on a blow-pipe, were cracked into lengths, split lengthwise and flattened. The great development in window glass manufacture dates from about 1880, when natural gas began to be largely used. At a window glass factory which he erected at Jeanette, Pa., James Chalmers began, in 1889, to use the first continuous tank in this country. The first successful machine for making window glass, constructed under the Lubbers patents, was installed by the American Window Glass Company at Alexandria, Ind., in 1903. In this machine and in other types later invented by Americans, the glass is drawn by a “bait member” from the “metal” in the tank, and the cylinder is formed by a pressure of air in it controlled by an operator. During the blast of 1915-16 the production of 50-foot boxes by hand was 3,708,000 and by machine 5,575,000, the hand production being about 40 per cent of the total. In 1916 there were in the United States 51 plants, with 1,737 pots, in which window glass was blown by hand, and 25 plants with 296 window machines. The introduction of machinery led to the production of more window glass than the domestic consumption, with the result that window glass factories are usually operated only seven or eight months a year. Census figures show that the average value of a 50-foot box was $2.51 in 1899, $2.39 in 1904, $1.70 in 1909 and $2.18 in 1914. About 1908 Irving W. Colburn invented a machine by which glass is drawn from a tank in continuous sheet form. The sheet passes between rollers, and an operator controls the thickness and width. The Colburn patents were purchased by the Owens Bottle Machine Company, which, in 1917, erected at Charleston, W. Va., a factory for making sheet window glass.

Under the management of Cuthbert Dixon, a plate glass worker and manufacturer from London, England, rough plate glass was produced in 1852 at Williamsburg, L. I. A window glass factory erected at Cheshire, Mass., in 1850, was changed, in 1852-53, to a rough cast plate factory. A window glass factory erected at Lenox Furnace, Mass., in 1853, was converted, in 1855, into a plate glass factory. The successful establishment of the plate glass industry was chiefly due to James B. Ford of Pittsburgh. In 1869 he visited the works at Lenox and learned what he could from foreign plate glass workers there. Then he started a factory at New Albany, Ind., for which he imported grinding, smoothing and polishing machinery. This factory, from which he withdrew in 1872, was successfully continued by William C. De Pauw. Ford later built plate glass factories at Louisville, Ky., Jeffersonville, Ind., Creighton, Pa., and Tarentum, Pa. A plate glass plant was established, in 1872, at Crystal City, Mo. In 1917 there were nine plate glass plants in Pennsylvania, two in Missouri and one each in Michigan, Ohio, Indiana and Illinois. The 15 plants in the United States had 113 furnaces and 2,116 pots. From 1875 to 1915 the price of plate glass decreased about 75 per cent. The first process for manufacturing wire glass successfully was patented by Frank Shuman in 1892. Since 1890 there has been successful development in this country in the manufacture of cathedral, opalescent and art sheet glass, and all kinds of figured, ribbed and colored glass.

Machines for blowing bottles, at first adapted to wide-mouthed bottles only, were not commercially successful until about 1896. Such machines were operated at first by three skilled men, later by two and now by one. In 1908 there appeared a three-man machine for making narrow-necked bottles; in 1912, a one-man machine for wide-mouth bottles, and, in 1914, a one-man machine for narrow-neck bottles. The one-man machine automatically cuts off the quantity of molten glass sufficient for each mold. In establishments using machines bottles are blown by hand to fill small orders. From the earliest period of glass blowing until 1903 all glass that was blown was gathered on the end of a blow-pipe. In that year two revolutionary inventions were commercially introduced, the bottle-making machine by Michael J. Owens and the flowing device invented by Homer Brooke, both Americans. With only an attendant, who is not a skilled operator, the Owens machine gathers the glass and blows the bottle or jar. When a mechanical conveyor is used, the ware is both made and delivered to the lear without handling. More nearly automatic than any other glass-making machine, its output is much greater. The operating speed of the largest type of Owens machines is indicated by the fact that it produces more than 75,000 quart fruit jars in 24 hours. The machine and the revolving tank that supplies it are costly and are used only in factories which produce large quantities of bottles or jars of uniform shape and size. The machines were introduced in Europe and more recently in Japan. By the Brooke device the molten glass flows from the furnace to the mold, the quantity sufficient for each mold being automatically severed. The chief advantages of the Brooke device are that it dispenses with skilled labor; it can be operated during the hot months when hand gatherers are not readily obtainable, and by it the output is increased while the cost of production is decreased.

The making of coal-oil from coal led, about 1855, to a demand for lamps and lamp chimneys, the use of which greatly increased, about 1859, when refined petroleum was first marketed. One of the first plants to make a specialty of lighting goods was started in Brooklyn by Christopher Dorflinger, in 1852, but, in 1865, he moved the business to White Mills, Pa., where he established a large cut-glass factory. Lamps and lamp chimneys are still manufactured in considerable quantities and exported to many countries. Chimneys were at first blown off-hand on blow-pipes. Chimneys, light tumblers and other seamless blown ware are now made in paste-mold machines, the seams being removed by turning the ware while hot in molds lined with carbon or similar material. The incandescent lamp was perfected by Edison in 1879 and its manufacture became an important branch of the industry. The bulbs are blown in paste-mold machines. All kinds of lighting goods are now extensively made in the United States.

The popularity of American made cut glass was established by a splendid display by the Libby Company in a complete glass-melting and cutting establishment at the World's Fair, Chicago, in 1893. Both pressed ware and deep-cut ware were exported to Europe before the war there began. Laboratory ware was little made in the United States before the war began in Europe, but since 1914 it has been produced here in quantities sufficient for domestic consumption and for export. Beakers and flasks equal to Jena ware have been made by one factory in New Jersey since 1900 and by plants in several States since 1914. Photographic glass was first made commercially in the United States in 1911 and the domestic production is now large. Optical glass was made experimentally in the United States in 1912. As a result of the war, the quantity manufactured here became large, the quality being equal to the best European product.

Even with the extensive use of machinery, labor constitutes the chief single item of expense in the manufacture of glass. Of 334 industries reported by the census of manufactures for 1914, glass ranked thirteenth in percentage of labor cost based on the value of the product. A government report, issued in 1917, shows that of the total sales value of the product, the cost of labor in the manufacture of various kinds of glass was 40.6 per cent. The same report shows that of employees in glass factories, 2.5 per cent were under 16 years of age and 8.2 per cent women, the latter being more numerous in tableware and lighting goods factories than in plants of other kinds. Hand window-glass blowers receive higher wages than skilled workers in other branches of the industry, and their working hours are relatively short, union hours being 44 a week. Unskilled workers average about 60 a week. Skilled labor is paid at piece rates, unskilled on a time-rate basis. In manufacturing window glass by hand and also blown and pressed ware, which includes tableware, bar goods, lighting goods and laboratory ware, the labor unions limit the output of workers, which restricts production and increases cost. Some branches of the industry operate only a part of the year, hand window glass only about seven months and machine window-glass plants about eight months, while other branches lose one or more months a year. The reasons are fear of overproduction, inability of men to work around furnaces during the hot months and necessity for repairs.

Accompanying tables show statistically the development of the industry in the United States from 1869 to 1914. While the estimated population increased 19.6 per cent from 1904 to 1914, the value of glass manufactures increased 54.6 per cent. Of the total value, $123,085,019 in 1914, window glass amounted to $17,495,956; polished plate glass, $4,554,326; pressed and blown ware, $30,279,290; bottles and jars, $51,958,728; other products, $4,022,932. In window glass, plate glass, pressed tableware, deep cut ware, lighting goods, laboratory ware and optical goods, the quality of the domestic product is equal or superior to the best that is imported.

The imports and exports of glass and glassware during the fiscal year 1879 were respectively $3,281,543 and $768,644; during the fiscal year 1914, respectively, $8,219,112 and $3,729,623. The imports were 15.5 per cent of the domestic production, $21,154,571, during the calendar year 1879, and 6.7 per cent of the production, $123,085,019, in 1914. The average rate of duty was 57.6 per cent in 1879 and 33.8 per cent in 1914. Before the war in Europe began the principal glass importations were window glass, plate glass, fine blown tableware, toilet ware, colored ware, optical glass and bottles used as containers. Since the war began imports have suspended and exports increased many fold. Of the imports in 1914, window glass amounted to $1,316,902, of which over 80 per cent was of the three smaller brackets (384 square inches and under), and plate glass amounted to $489,359, also mostly of the smaller sizes. Practically all of the imports of window and plate glass in recent years have been in localities on or near the Atlantic, Pacific and Gulf coasts. The exports include all kinds of glass and glassware made in America.

An extended account of the development of the industry by Joseph D. Weeks appeared in the census report on manufactures 1880. A report on the industry by the undersigned, published by the Bureau of Foreign and Domestic Commerce, 1917, contains a bibliography with 500 titles.

Glass Industry In The United States, General Statistics, 1869-1914.

(Source: Census of Manufactures).

1879 1889 1899 1904 1909 1914

Establishments 154 169 294 355 399 363 348
Capital  $13,826,142  $18,804,599  $40,966,850  $61,423,903  $89,389,151  $129,288,384  $153,925,876
Wage earners 15,367 24,177 44,892 52,818 63,969 68,911 74,502
Salaries and wages $7,589,110 $9,144,100 $22,118,522 $29,877,086 $41,228,441 $44,293,215 $55,204,723
Cost of materials 5,864,365 8,028,621 12,140,985 16,731,009 26,145,522 32,119,499 46,016,504
Value of products 18,467,507 21,154,571 41,051,004 56,539,712 79,607,998 92,095,203 123,085,019

Value Of Glass Production In The United States, 1879-1914.

(Source: Census of Manufactures).

1889 1899 1904 1909 1914

Pennsylvania $8,720,584 $17,179,137 $22,011,130 $27,671,693 $32,817,936 $39,797,822
Ohio 1,549,320 5,649,183 4,547,083 9,026,208 14,358,274 19,191,342
Indiana 790,781 2,995,409 14,757,883 14,706,929 11,593,094 14,881,372
West Virginia 748,500 945,224 1,871,795 4,598,563 7,779,483 14,631,171
Illinois 901,343 2,372,011 2,834,398 5,619,740 5,047,333 7,680,343
New Jersey 2,810,170 5,218,152 5,093,822 6,450,195 6,961,088 7,597,754
New York 2,420,796 2,723,019 2,756,978 4,279,766 4,508,790 5,156,714
Missouri 919,827 1,213,329 765,564 1,781,026 1,992,883 3,882,420
Oklahoma * * 2,005,736
Maryland 587,000 1,256,697 557,895 589,589 1,038,368 1,500,982
Kansas 958,720 2,036,573 728,681
Virginia * 549,031 681,900 690,420
Massachusetts 254,345 431,437 418,458 1,011,373 * *
All other States  851,905 1,065,397 924,706 2,365,165 3,279,481 5,340,263

 United States  $21,154,571  $41,051,004  $56,539,712  $79,607,998  $92,095,203  $123,085,019

 *Included in all other States.

Walter B. Palmer,
Former Special Agent, Bureau of Foreign and Domestic Commerce.