Publication: Crockery & Glass Journal
New York, NY, United States
REVIEW OF THE GLASS TRADE.
LOOKING back over the year now ended by the putting out of the fires, it may be said that this district has just held its own in the glass manufacturing industry, and done no more. What with labor troubles, a depressed market, low prices and prospects of tariff legislation hurtful to them, the glass manufacturers have had a hard row to hoe: and yet they came through the worst of the ordeal comparatively unharmed, and with bright hopes for the future.
The year was peculiar one in the tableware business. Trade was dull from the very beginning, and even the holiday season did not bring the usual revival of business that generally accompanies its advent. From the time the factories commenced work in August up to the date at which they closed early in December, stocks continued to increase, and the outlook was for an excessive plethora of goods to commence the new year with. While the strike removed the threatened glut for the time it also greatly increased productive capacity in the West, and rendered future overstocked markets as among the chief perils that may yet affect the trade. But the distinguishing feature of the year was the great strike, the first that occurred in this industry since 1879. The facts in the case, still fresh in the minds of everybody connected with the trade, may be recounted thus: The American Flint Glass Workers Union, comprising workers in all kinds of flint glass, met in convention at Atlantic City, N. J., in the third week of July, 1887. Among other things they promulgated a new list of numbers and prices, which they presented to the tableware factories on August 1, the day of the resumption of work after the summer, suspension. The manufacturers' refused to accept it, owing to its incompleteness and impracticability, and at a meeting held on August 8th asked that it be withdrawn. At another rneeting, on August 16, they agreed to discuss the matter, and committees were appointed by both sides to do so, with the understanding that if they failed to agree a month's notice of intention to stop work should be given by the dissenting party. These committees went to work and revised the list, and everything went on smoothly until October 11, the factories continuing at work meanwhile. Then the committees disagreed, the workers insisting that the gatherers should be employed on the "turn work'' system, and the manufacturers insisting on piece work. Renewed conferences were held, which resulted in a second disagreement on October 26, and the workers gave notice of their intention to leave the factories on November 27, a month hence. Negotiations were resumed November 7 on a new list prepared by the manufacturers, and the workers' notice to quit was rescinded. These negotiations also ended in failure to arrange the difficulty, and at their meeting on November 29 and 30 the manufacturers organized themselves into a body styled the Associated Glass Manufacturers, and promulgated the famous rules over which such a bitter fight ensued. On December 10 the workers here all went out on strike and the factories were closed up. The workers then offered to accept the list completed by the joint committees on October 11, conceding the gatherers' question, but the manufacturers refused the proposition, deciding to insist on the rules. Matters remained in abeyance for some time and on February 8th a new conference was held between the executive committee of the manufacturers and that of the workers, but no end was reached. Subsequently another conference was called, and on March 30 the committee split on the apprentice question. They met again on April 11 and discussed the same subject, with the same result as before. On April 18 the troubles were arranged by the abandonment on the part of the manufacturers of some of the rules most obnoxious to the workers, and the strike was declared off, after having lasted in this city and vicinity for four months and three weeks. Most of the factories started up the first week in May, some having begun work on April 30. They have all been in operation continuously since. As to the general results of the strike, it may be said that the manufacturers benefited by it, and resumed active business under better conditions than if they had been running all the time. In place of being overburdened with ware, which they undoubtedly would have been if in steady operation, with the dull state of trade that existed, they were enabled to clear off all accumulations, including old and comparatively dead stock, and while this desirable end was being accomplished they incurred no expenses at all for production. As to the terms for labor, they were more favorable to the manufacturers at the end than at the beginning of the strike, and they were successful in their contention for piece-work all round — an insistance on which by them caused the first deadlock in the negotiations and precipitated the strike. Of course one effect of the strike adverse to manufacturers here was the widening of the field of competition by the establishment of a number of rival factories elsewhere, but events have proved that this city has retained the greater part of its patronage and will continue to get its full share of the business as heretofore, No financial troubles occurred in the industry arising from the strike or other causes, and all were able to resume work promptly when the difficulty was ended and meet all the engagements punctually while it lasted. There was no increase of manufacturing facilities made during the year, and one factory that was burned down will be rebuilt for other purposes than tableware manufacture.
The industry suffered pretty severely from fire during the year. The establishments of the King Glass Co. and McKee & Bros, were seriously damaged on August 1 and one of the factories of Adams & Co. on October 17. In neither case were the factory buildings much injured, but large quantities of ware were destroyed. The two former factories were immediately rebuilt, the latter not.
The deaths of prominent makers of the business that occurred during the year were as follows: Andrew C. Dalzell, of Dalzell Bros. & Gilmore, who, though located in Wellsburg, was long connected with the glass industry of this city, and who died on July 2; Chas. Ruhe, ex-secretary of the Co-operative Flint Glass Co., Beaver Falls, died September 5: Benjamin Latshw Fahnestock, a pioneer of glass manufacture here, died January 3; and Timothy Malmey, a well-known glass melting pot manufacturer, who died on February 13.
The past year was a good one for the chimney trade as compared with several previous ones. Not that the net profits to manufacturers were especially large, but there was a steady demand, and only about two factories closed down with considerable stocks on hand. An advance of two cents a dozen on the grades in ordinary use was made in the fall and maintained since, but this did little more than cover the increased cost of production — the prices for labor, material and packages having advanced also. At a conference held between the manufacturers and workers on July 27th it was agreed to advance the wages of gatherers eight cents per turn, to decrease the number of No. 1 globe chimneys from 340 to 320 per turn, and to make the period of the summer shut-down six weeks instead of four. These concessions being made, the factories resumed work on August 1, and ran steadily until the end of the fire. Sundry efforts were made to induce the manufacturers to join the tableware manufacturers in resisting the demands of the workers, but no satisfactory plan of mutual action could be decided on, and the negotiations proved abortive. One factory shut down a month before the usual time, and proceeded to settle up its affairs, but two other manufactories are making preparations to considerably enlarge their working capacity, and an increased output may be looked for next year. No events of more than ordinary interest occurred in this branch of the trade during the year, nor were there any changes of any kind worth noticing. Only one firm of chimney manufacturers became involved m the tableware strike, and they had to stop work because they were engaged in the manufacture of table goods as well as chimneys.
The flint bottle manufacturers were also involved in the scheme of "equalization'' proposed by the workers' organization. Like the chimney manufacturers, however, they compromised matters, and so were enabled to open their factories on September 1. On August 10 the Western Flint Bottle Association at their meeting here endorsed an arrangement previously made by their wage committee with the workers by which the wages paid East and West were made uniform, and though ostensibly the agreement reaffirmed the scale of the previous year, it resulted in an advance of 10 per cent, in wages for making some goods. The time for the yearly shut-down was changed from two months to six weeks, to be uniform with the rest of the flint works. The large increase in production, due to the building of new factories in the West in the last few years, and the necessity felt by some of the new concerns to turn over their product as quickly as possible, kept the market constantly overcrowded and reduced prices to a lower point than ever known before, so that though on the whole a great deal of ware was disposed of, profits were meagre, and the results of the year's transactions very unsatisfactory. On January 20 the Western Flint Bottle Association held a meeting in Washington, D. C., and among other business appointed a committee to devise a scheme by which a beneficial association of manufacturers might be formed for the purpose of restricting the production, if such should be found necessary, and to try and arrest the constantly lowering tendency of prices. The plan suggested was somewhat on the same basis as that of the window glass manufacturers. A fixed price-list and discounts were to be established, and any manufacturer unable to dispose of his ware in reasonable time at these rates, or who wanted money immediately, would have his stock taken off his hands by the Association, who would advance the necessary funds and hold the goods off the market if they regarded it judicious to do so. Of course, in order to have such a scheme succeed, it was necessary to get the adherence of all or nearly all the manufacturers to its provisions, and as several refused to enter the combination the whole project fell to the ground. Production in this vicinity has rather lessened recently. The proprietors of one factory moved West, leaving the works here idle; another situated at Butler, up the Allegheny river, was burned a few weeks ago; and one at Rochester has not been working full for some time because of a strike. The factories are also being run more on the regular lines customary to them and have not branched out so much into other specialties as in former years.
This was particularly the case with fruit jars, which manufacturers here have mostly abandoned.
In the green bottle business there were no troubles of any kind, and the factories resumed work on September 1. The workers made no demand, and the previous year's scale was kept in force — the only exception in this particular in the whole industry. Business was moderately fair on the whole, though imports were unusually large. Toward the close of the season there was considerable local demand for beer bottles, but its effect on the manufacturing trade was slight, as there were no stocks of the kind wanted on hand, and manufacturers being busy on fruit jars would not divert their attention from them to a mere passing spurt in bottles.
Fruit jars were only in fair demand. Last season caught a good many jobbers with an over-supply on hand, and made them more cautious in ordering this year. The early promise of a good small fruit crop was not fulfilled, the excessive rains of May and early June preventing the berries from coming to proper maturity. Manufacturers do not hold large stocks, and probably all that were made in the latter part of the season will be disposed of. One factory here did not open at all during the year, but to balance things a new factory was built and put in operation a short distance down the valley. No incident of importance occurred in the trade here during the year.
Like all other branches of the glass trade, the window glass industry wis involved in labor troubles at the outset of the season. The workers asked for an advance of ten per cent, in wages, which the manufacturers refused to grant. Numerous conferences were held between the representatives of both parties from July to September, and the factories did not resume work on the first of the latter month, as is usual, because of the inability to fix the wages scale. On September 28 there was a final disagreement, but the committees met again the same night and a compromise was effected by the terms of which the workers put five per cent, of an advance on wages instead of the ten per cent, they wanted. On the ratification of this agreement by the Workers' Association preparations were made to light the fires, and work was resumed about the middle of October, six weeks later than usual. From that time to the end of the fire there was no further hitch. In January the Western Window Glass Beneficial Association raised prices five per cent. Up to January trade was fair, and that month found a smaller stock-on hand than had been in many previous years, partially on account, however, of the late date at which the factories started. The trade continued favorable until the introduction of the Mills tariff bill, the provisions of which affecting window glass threatened such a reduction in prices that dealers at once shortened their orders and confined their purchases to actual needs while awaiting the result of the consideration of the bill. The consequence was that stocks gradually increased, and June found them larger than they were the same time last year.
The productive capacity in the West was largely increased during the year, the motive being to save freights in that direction, and the new factories diverted some trade from here. One firm removed their plant from here to the West altogether, but there were considerable improvements made in producing facilities here, and the total capacity is as large, if not larger, than ever, especially of with gas more glass can be made with the same working capacity than with coal as formerly used. As the season closes the prospects are strong for a disagreement between the manufacturers and workers on next year's wages scale, the former insisting that a reduction has become absolutely necessary, and the latter as usual dissenting. It would not be astonishing, therefore, to find another prolonged shut-down take place the coming fall, as both parties seem fully determined not to give up a point in their contention.
The year that closed when the fires went out the first of July was one not altogether unmixed with irritating and unsatisfactory features; though as a whole the Ohio valley manufacturers have nothing to complain of, either as to the volume of business for the time the factories were in operation or the prices that ruled in the main.
During the year two of the best known glass manufactories retired from business. These were Hobbs, Brockunier & Co. and the La Belle Glass Co. The first named firm was doing business under a charter, the limitation of which expired the first of January, and the inclination of Mr. Chas. W. Brockunier and Mr. Wm. Leighton to retire from the firm, and other circumstances, such as inability to agree upon terms for a renewal or the organization of a new company, have kept these extensive works idle all of this year. The La Belle Glass Co. was forced to make an assignment. The new La Belle was started with a heavy debt hanging over it, and was in the expensive business of manufacturing fancy goods and had built up a, splendid trade; but in addition to the large indebtedness came internal dissensions, and the company was compelled to make an assignment, though they had $40,000 worth of orders on the books at the time. Messrs. R. K. Giffen and William Brown, both men of means, had been putting up their money for the La Belle, but there were so many false stories based upon the fact of the heavy indebtedness by disgruntled stockholders that the assignment was forced as a matter of self-protection in face of a promising business. Thus it will be seen that the drppping out of these factories was not due to discouraging features of the glass trade or to reverses. In both instances only the members of the company are losers, if there be any losses when they are finally wound up.
From the dropping out of two of the largest manufactories of fine and fancy glassware it might be inferred that this branch of the business was a blank in the lower Ohio valley now. But this is not the fact by any means. Before there was any serious thought of either retiring other factories had begun the use of the finest colors, and the well-established reputation of this section for perfect harmony in blending together the richest colors with beautiful effect is still kept up, and the trade in this line of wares has not materially fallen off, if indeed it has not been larger than in any previous year. And it can be said of this branch of the trade that the factories now most largely interested in producing artistic effects are to-day among the most popular in the whole valley. There has been no interruption of the manufacture of these goods, and although prices are not so good as a year or two ago, the art has been reduced to such a science that the same effects are produced at less expense; hence at even lower prices it continues to be the cream of the glassware trade. There is less loss, barring accidents, and notwithstanding the fact that any misfortune in bringing these goods through from the furnace to the warerooms runs into dollars very rapidly, experience has lessened the probability of even ordinary risks because greater care is taken.
The glass business has been widely extended during the year. Several individuals who were formerly connected with Ohio valley factories accepted liberal offers from interior Ohio towns where natural gas was found and erected new factories at those places. The going of these men has not lessened the glass product of the valley so far, but has added immensely to the total product of the staple lines of glassware. There are now not less than five new tableware factories ready for business there, and another one is a certainty. These six make, or will make, an addition of twelve furnaces, all to be operated on tableware, goblets, tumblers, and specialties in the crystal glass line.
The careful management that has characterized the operation of all the factories in this section, and the executive ability displayed in the careful placing of the product, has made all the factories in the Ohio valley very formidable concerns, and has enabled them within the past year to spend more money on novel designs and new patterns than was ever spent before in this section of country in the same length of time. This is one of the most expensive features of the trade, for often new molds at great cost amount to nothing: and yet the fact that greater effort has been made in this direction is evidence of itself that the factories have been doing a good business. Not all of them have been able to pay dividends, but several of them have yielded fair returns upon the investment, while those that have not been unable to do so only because the earnings have been applied to wiping out indebtedness con tracted in former years, or, in some instances, such improvements have been made in the works that it amounts to an increased value of the plant — a virtual dividend.
The review of the glass trade here for the past two or three years has contained nothing about dividends being paid by any of the factories. That is, it was the exceptional firm that had received any actual return upon the capital invested. Now it is just the reverse. It is the exception now where no return is received. The business year at all the factories does not close in July, but if it did the majority of the stockholders would have been agreeably surprised. This was the case in the instances where the balances were made. And these facts speak more positively of the prosperity of this business than anything that might be written. The average man with from $2,000 to $10,000 or $15,000 invested does not like to listen to statements concerning how the earnings were spent in making this or that addition to the works. The only thing that can convince him that some money has been made is to hand him a check for five or ten per cent, on his investment.
At Wellsburg a new furnace has been added to those already there, but this one will not more than even up the product of the town in consequence of one firm leaving there to operate a new works at Findlay.
At Steubenville very great improvements have been made in the factories, and they now boast of one of the largest chimney houses in the country. The tableware lines have also been greatly strengthened by the product of this town in the past year.
At Martin's Ferry the greatest progress is noticeable. There are only three factories there, but two of them are operated almost exclusively on the finest colored ware. The three had been run on crystal wares until a year or two since. One of them was engaged upon the finer dome shades, etc , but now two of the works are making all the colors known to the trade, while the third has made great advances in the ordinary crystal lines.
At Bellaire none of the factories have gone into the fancy goods line, but the tableware factories have been handling opalescent and have made advances in patterns and designs, and although one of the tableware firms ceased production here the first of 1888 and will continue the business at Findlay, the furnace left has been operated right along on fruit jars for a large firm here that has heretofore leased one or two factories in interior towns. In fact, Bellaire has now the control of not only the product of all the furnaces here, but of two at Washington, Pa., and has made great advances, especially in the fruit jar business, which has grown to be one of the prominent features of the trade.
The window glass business has been very prosperous, and the factories in this part of the country disposed of all their product at very good figures.
There has really been two successive years of good business for the window glass men, but they followed two or three exceedingly poor seasons when it began to be a serious question of what would become of some of the factories. The fact that the trade in this branch has been exceedingly good has led several men to venture more largely into the product, and there are from eight to twelve new furnaces either ready or about ready to start.
The lantern trade, which necessarily affects the lantern globe trade, has been fair the past year, especially the first part of it, ending in the middle of 1888; but it was not what it has been in the past. As many lanterns were no doubt used, but more people are making them; and the price has been reduced in a general way until that business is not what it once was. However, the lantern globe trade for the past year in this section has been about equal to that of the preceding year, and more of them were shipped to other points than formerly.
It can be said of the glass trade, taking it as a whole in the Ohio valley and vicinity, that the business has been all that was or could be expected. In some respects the past year surpassed expectations, while in others there were vexations and annoyances that disturbed the business so as to make it irregular and uneven. There have been no reverses on account of the condition of the trade, and there have been fewer losses than in any year in the history of the glass business. Not only has the art idea been fostered until the man who makes the mixes can indeed be denominated an artist of superior skill, but the business has been reduced to such a science that when a sale is made the figures are more than ordinarily safe to count upon as so much cash. The ability and inclination to pay are both taken into account, and it is an agreeable feature in the sharp competition of the present trade in glassware to state as a fact that each year as the manufacturers grow closer together in each other's confidence the bad debt account lessens.
|Date completed:||August 20, 2010 by: Bob Stahr;|