Publication: Crockery & Glass Journal
New York, NY, United States
THE GLASS INDUSTRY IN 1887.
PITTSBURGH, Jan. 7.
THE record of the table glass trade in this district, and more particularly of the pressed branch of it, for the year just closed possesses several salient features of interest, though, commercially speaking business was hardly equal to the average, and the results were scarcely satisfactory from a financial point of view. Though this district continued to maintain its preeminence in the industry under consideration, both in regard to amount of production and extent of shipments, the establishment of new factories in other districts helped to diminish the aggregate of trade here by distributing the total amount over a wider area. The importations of tableware and other kindred goods from foreign countries were also larger than usual, and contributed to lessen the general demand for domestic wares. The prices that prevailed for all classes of goods, both home and foreign, were steadily and uniformly low, more so than in any previous record. There was undoubtedly more glass consumed in the country in the past year than ever before, but the small prices which it brought, the advance in the cost of materials and other factors in production, and the increase in the sources of supply, made the profits accruing from the business rather more precarious than usual in this locality, A peculiarity of the trade was that contrary to previous experience there was no rush or boom at any time of the year. Orders were steady and regular enough, but manufacturers were at all times able to meet them without trouble or inconvenience, and had to exert no special pressure on their facilities to keep their customers supplied. Nevertheless all the furnaces were kept going steadily during the year (until the strike supervened), and three belonging to firms that had others in operation, but which had been idle for several years, were put in blast. Two new factories, each having a 15-ton pot furnace, were erected in this district during the year (one at New Brighton and one at Beaver Falls), and one factory (at Tarentum) added a 10-pot furnace to its plant, which comprised all the additions made to manufacturing capacity during the period under consideration, amounting to forty pots in all, or, with the three old furnaces that had been idle and were blown in aggregating thirty-one pots added, making a total of seyenty-one pots altogether.
Fire made considerable havoc among tableware factories-during the year. One factory was totally destroyed, with its appurtenances, and has not-been rebuilt; another met with the same misfortune, but was subsequently reconstructed and is now in operation, while two others, though their furnace rooms were saved, had all their remaining departments gutted and lost heavily in stock, and that at the busiest season. The last two were, however, repaired, and went to work later in the season.
With all the discouragements incident to slow trade and depressed prices there were no monetary embarrassments among the manufacturers, who maintained the high position they have always enjoyed in respect to financial standing. Though of recent occurrence, and probably fresh in the minds of readers of the JOURNAL, in whose page's the progress of events have been recorded from week to week, yet a brief review of the origin and causes of the present trouble in the tableware industry may be acceptable to those who wish to get the facts bunched together. Monday, August 1, was the day appointed for the resumption of work at the factories after the usual summer suspension. The manufacturers had heard that some demands were to be made of them by the workmen,,who had held a convention a few weeks before, and so, pending the receipt of authentic information as to what these demands might be, only three factories out of the whole number went to work .On that day, however, a new move list, prepared by a committee of the Flint Glass Workers' Union at their convention, was presented at the various factories to the managers, with the condition coupled to it that it was not expected to go into effect until the 1st of September following. A large meeting of the manufacturers was held here on August 8th, one week after the receipt of the new list, and they unanimously expressed the opinion that the document must be withdrawn or considerably modified, being, as it stood, impracticable and impossible of application to all the factories. On August 16 another meeting of manufacturers was held here, and they decided to appoint a committee to confer with a smaller committee of the workers and go over the whole list. These conference committees went into session the same week and continued their labors for over two months, discussing every individual item, and giving several days a week to the task. Various divergences of opinion occurred, but they were successfully settled, until finally the question of the pay of the gatherers came up for consideration. The manufacturers claimed that they as well as other workers at the shops, namely, the pressers and finishers, should be responsible for their share of defective ware coming through the lears. At the same time the manufacturers agreed to increase the gatherers' wages and guarantee that they hould suffer no loss by the arrangement. This point the workers' committee reused to concede, and, the manufacturers being firm, the conference came to an end. This was on October 25. At the commencement of the conferences an arrangement as made by which it was agreed that should the committee fail in effecting amicable settlement of the dispute either party should give the other thirty days notice of any intention to suspend work, if such suspension of operations should be deemed advisable. After the failure of the committee to agree on the gatherers' question, which was the only one yet pending between them, the workers gave prompt notice that they would quit the factories one month from that date; that is, November 25. An additional meeting was held the week following between the committees, without result, but the workers withdrew their notice to stop work. The manufacturers then decided to draw up a list of wages and numbers of their own in place of that of the workers upon which both parties failed to agree and this was prepared and presented to the workers, together with a number of rules to govern the management of the factories, after first being submitted to a general meeting of the whole body of manufacturers East and West held at the Monongahela House. They approved of the new rules and list resolved themselves into an association and appointed an Executive committee to carry out their plans, The new proposals were sent to the workers on December 1, with a proviso that they would not be in force until January 2, 1888. Pending an answer to the manufacturers' proposition a general strike was ordered by the executive committee of the workers' organization, without any notice, and it took place on December 10, when all the workers went out. On December 13, four days after the strike was proclaimed, the president of the Flint Glass Workers' Union sent to the manufacturers' commitee a communication embodying the objections of his organization to the rules adopted, and asking for a modification of them, at the same time signifying a desire to concede what the manufacturers asked for in regard to the gatherers in the first conferences that took place. On December 21, after consultation with his colleagues, the chairman of the manufacturers' executive committee replied to the answer of the workers, reaffirming the rules in all particulars and declining to make any recessions from them. These rules, together with all the correspondence that followed, have already appeared in the JOURNAL and at so recent a date that they do not need reproduction. Nothing further was done up to the close of the year, when this record ends, and everything was in abeyance at that time.
The chimney trade was active during the whole year from beginning to end, There was little or no change in the amount of production, and this being the case the natural increase in consumption which occurs with each succeeding year gave the manufacturers enough to do. All of them operated their factories throughout with only the usual stop at midsummer, and they were not at any time overburdened with stock. At the beginning of the year it was hoped there would be more or less of an appreciation of values, as prospects pointed that way, but no advance took place, and prices kep at a low mark the entire year. It is hard to account for this seeing that the demand was good; but either the manufacturers did not put their shoulder .to the wheel to accomplish the result required, or else they deemed it as well to let things stay as they were. The only matter of interest that occurred during the year regarding the trade was the revision of the wage list. On July 27 a meeting was held between the manufacturers of lime chimneys and a committee of the workers' union. The propositions of the latter, that the summer stop should be six weeks instead of four, that the number of No. 1 globe (or Phoenix) chimneys to be made per turn should be reduced from 340 to 320, and that the gatherers' wages be advanced eight cents per turn, were accepted by the manufacturers.
Many people doubted the wisdom of the chimney manufacturers in making these concessions, in view of subsequent events in other branches of the flint trade, but it is to be presumed that they gave the matter their best consideration and knew what suited the exigencies of the business at the time best. Beyond this the record of the trade for the year was without incident of note, and everything moved along quietly to its end.
The year just closed has been a very unsatisfactory one for manufacturers of flint bottles. Not that the demand has been bad, but prices have been the lowest ever known to the trade. As in the case of the tableware industry, the cost of materials was advanced considerably, and wages were also increased, both of which circumstances added materially to the cost of production. On the 15th of February last the Western Flint Bottle Association, comprising fifteen firms west of the Allegheny mountains, met at the Burnet House, Cincinnati, and adopted a scale of prices and discounts which it was thought would relieve the manufacturers to a certain extent from the depression that had lasted so long. A number of factories, both here and elsewhere in the West, sufficient to make the efforts of the association to establish regular and uniform rates abortive declined to join that body and continued to make prices to suit themselves, so that the price-list established by the association was of little or no practical benefit to them, and it was to all intents and purposes null and roid. This state of things continued up to the end of the year without any improvement. Nor were the manufacturers fortunate enough to escape becoming participants in the struggle inaugurated by the Flint Glass Workers' Union during the summer for a general advance in wages, or "equalization,'' as the latter astute organization termed it. The wage committee of the Western Bottle Association met a like committee of the workers on July 26 and 27 to discuss a demand by the latter for an increase of ten per cent. in wages. The committees did not come to any conclusion at this meeting, but on August 10 the negotiations terminated by the manufacturers conceding the advance, and also agreeing that the summer stop should in future be for a term of six weeks instead of two months, which was the previons arrangement. One new furnace was built in this district during the year, and this was the only change in the productive capacity that occurred. Outside of here, however, the facilities have been enlarged and still continue to increase.
The green bottle industry here enjoyed the special distinction during the year of 1887 of being the only branch of the glass business in which no labor difficulty of any sort arose. No demands were made by either manufacturers or workmen, and everything progressed smoothly between them. Seven factories operated by five firms were in operation all of the year, one new one at Redman's Mills, on the city line, was started, and another a little way down the Ohio river went into operation just before the close of the year. The trade for the year was on the whole, favorable. For several years it was steadily dull, and some firms abandoned the business. Labor troubles among the Eastern factories gave the business a new stimulus here, however, and for over a year it has prospered. The outlook now is good for next season.
The past has been a fair though not particularly prosperous year in the window glass trade The great labor disturbances in the building trades that distinguished the year 1886 were repeated only in a modified degree in 1887 and ceased altogether in the last half of the latter year. For this reason consumption was steady, though large imports injuriously affected the domestic trade. Toward the end of the year stocks of home-made glass became much smaller than usual, indicating an increased consumption. In February last, the Western.manufacturers organized themselves into an association called the Western Window Glass Manufacturers' Beneficial Association, and succeeded in getting all the Western manufacturers to join it. They then advanced prices, which have been fully maintained since. This end was secured by their exacting a certain sum from each member, which was to be forfeited if such member departed from the regular discounts. They also agreed to take from any member whatever surplus glass he could not dispose of, and the plan has worked well. The window glass industry had also its share of the labor troubles during the summer. As early as July the workers put in a demand for an advance of 10 per cent. in their wages. During that month and the following various conferences took place, but both parties held their respective positions firmly, and no settlement was reached. On September 28, after a prolonged conference, at which every effort to overcome the deadlock failed, the committees had adjourned, which, were called together at night and compromised in an advance of wages to the extent of 5 per cent. and certain modifications of rules. The factories did not generally resume operations until the middle of October, six weeks after the regular time, but they have got along well since. Several enlargements and improvements were made during the year, including the rebuilding of two factories and the starting of one that was idle for many years. No financial troubles of any kind occurred in the trade.
All the glass factories here are now working except the tableware ones. The prospects, while not brilliant, are generally fair, the chief drawback being the depression in prices which exists all around. This may be remedied to some degree, but hardly to any large extent under present conditions.
|Date completed:||August 23, 2010 by: Bob Stahr;|