Publication: Crockery & Glass Journal
New York, NY, United States
The Glass Factories.
A review of the trade in the Ohio Valley
for the past thirty years.
Looking backwards for thirty years over the glass field of the Ohio valley in and around Wheeling, one is forcibly reminded of the changes wrought, and is struck with wonder at the progress made.
Thirty years ago Michael Sweeney was looked upon as a glass king when he built, equipped, and operated what was subsequently know as the Buckeye Glass Works at Martin's Ferry. He was then well-to-do, but his life was a checkered one, and he died in very moderate circumstances.
At that time the Hobbs-Brockunier plant, in Wheeling, was in its infancy, but it grew into one of the foremost plants of the country, and under capable direction yielded a fortune to those in charge. Chas. H. Brockunier is still a resident of this city, but having grown richer by fortunate investments after retiring from the glass business, is not much seen about town. John H. Hobbs is living comfortably at Dorchester, Mass., with a competence that will keep him until the end of his days.
The history of the Central is an open book. In its palmy days John Osterling was the head of the company, and the now United States Senator N. B. Scott was the principal salesman. Mr. Osterling was a man of frugal habits, but broad-gage ideas in the glass business, and under his direction the Central grew to be one of the best investments in this city. When he died, Senator Scott, at his request, was chosen as his successor at the head of a prosperous enterprise, and it still flourished, but there came a time when competition was greater, and the surplus correspondingly decreased, until finally the United States Glass Co. bought both this and the Hobbs-Brockunier factories, and they were dismantled and left idle. The city smarted under this abrupt closing of two pioneer institutions, and local men organized a new Central glass company, Senator Scott among them, and they bought the naked plant back from the United States company, equipped it, and have been doing a nice business ever since. The Hobbs plant remained idle until about two years ago, when Harry Northwood headed a company with local interest enough to buy it, and the old plant is now operated on fancy goods. Some of the members of this latter company stayed away from the fold before the sale, and Lucien B. Martin and Will Brady went to Fostoria, Ohio, where they operated a plant of their own for a time, and then moved to Moundsville, a suburb of this city, where they successfully continued the Fostoria Glass Co. Two years ago Mr. Martin went with the National, while Mr. Brady, associated with others, went into business at Huntington, W. A. B. Dalzell then assuming charge of the Fostoria.
Within that period the North Wheeling Glass Company was organized by F. J. Park, Wm. Alexander, and other capable men, and they have been successfully conducting the business of bottle-making for nearly twenty years.
The old Buckeye plant, we should have noted, finally fell into the hands of Mr. Seaman, one of the large shareholders, and for a period he had John Miller in the office and business flourished. Then came a disastrous strike and much ill feeling, and the charred ruins of the Buckeye mark the spot of a once prosperous plant.
What is now known as the Crystal was in earlier days the LaBell, and at one time it was one of the most prosperous factories in this part of the Ohio valley, but it ran its race, and Andrew J. Baggs, who was at its head, met reverse after reverse. But he was not disheartened, and continued a busy man until one day he met with an accident by which he lost a leg. Still the man remained, and with a stout heart, clear conscience, and determination, he is going about upon crutches, making a comfortable living for himself and family.
The West Virginia used to be the Elson Glass Works, named after "Bill" Elson, a practical glass man known to the trade everywhere. It stranded upon the rocks of trade, and Capt. Ed. Muhleman and others finally took charge of it. Another period of success followed until the Captain retired, and the plant finally went to the National.
Captain Muhleman was at the head of the Crystal for some years before selling it to the National, and for a time remained in charge for that company. But he always had his own ideas about business, and soon left the field clear to those who did not agree with him. But he was too active a man to remain out of business, and he organized the Imperial Glass Company with its $500,000 capital, and built a mammoth plant at Bellaire which will be started with the year 1904.
This town of Bellaire was once called the "Glass City" because of the numerous factories of that kind in the place, there being seventeen at one time. But along in the latter eighties inducements were offered some of them to go to Findlay, the gas fields of Indiana, and other points, and they went under the delusive fancy that here was actually a time when men got something for nothing. The drain kept up until from seventeen glass furnaces in 1884 there were but three left in 1891. But the bubble burst, and the town is greater and better to-day than ever in its history. The first large plant to go was the Bellaire goblet works. They deserted their plant for a bonus of $20,000 and went to Findlay, and when the U. S. Glass Co. was organized they sold to that company. Most of the active heads went with the new company in various capacities, but M. L. Blackburn came to Bellaire again and embarked in the enamel business. W. A. Gorby, who was the business head of the goblet company, and who remained with the U. S. for years, has retired from active connection with any business and enjoys life with his family in Detroit, where they have been settled for some years.
The old Aetna simply ran its race and wound up its business. Col. E. B. Bowie who was its head, is in the insurance business in this city and doing well, while the plant is now owned by the Century Glass Co., which has had a varied experience. David W. Baird, however, was engaged by the company after they struck the rocks, and it may be that they will get to going on other lines under his direction later.
At the present time there is more capital and capacity employed than ever before, and the outlook for the coming year is very bright.
Pittsburgh and Vicinity.
During the last thirty years the changes that have occurred in the glass industry are wonderful. In the West — Pittsburgh and vicinity, chiefly — were some twenty-two plants at that period, viz., Jas. B. Lyon & Co.; Bakewell, Pears & Co.; Bryce, Walker & Co.; McKee Bros.; King, Son & Co.; Adams & Co.; John Best, Campbell, Jones & Co.; Ripley & Co.; Geo. Duncan Co,; Crystal Glass Co. (Bennetts); Doyle & Co. (W. Doyle, W. Beck); Pittsburg Glass Mfg. Co.; Richards, Hartley & Co.; Excelsior Glass Co.; Dithridge & Co.; Rochester Tumbler Co.; Central Glass Co. (Wheeling); Hobbs, Brockunier & Co. (Wheeling); A. J. Beatty (Steubenville); Hemingray & Co. (Covington). Of these, less than half a dozen are to be found to-day.
Among those that have joined the silent majority are John Oesterling (Central), Wm. Doyle, Wm. Beck (Doyle & Co.), Messrs Seaman, Atterbury, Bakewell, Pears, Duncan, Lyon, Bennett, Adams, Walker.
Andrew Bryce, H. C. Fry, and D. C. Ripley are still among the active managers of the factories of to-day.
The change that has been wrought in the character and quality of glassware, during this thirty years, is no less notable. Not only is our present tableware production superior to that of any country, but within the last few years a number of factories have developed lines of fancy glass whose manufacture in the earlier time was deemed impossible in this country.
The great majority of the old factories in Pittsburgh at that period have been either abandoned or dismantled. The increased value of property and the economic working conditions have made outside locations more desirable. During the past year the fine Catholic Epiphany Church and school have been completed on the site of the old glass works on Washington street, while the railroad interests have been appropriating for years many of the sites of the old glass houses on the south side, which was in the olden time pre-eminently the center of glass-making.
Another remarkable incident of the present, in contrast with the earlier period, is that two companies — the United States and the National — now own and operate more factories than existed in the West in 1873. Yet the number of individual factories in the West, outside of these two companies, now materially exceeds theirs.
The past year has been an eventful one in glass manufacturing. Machines that will practically revolutionize glass-making in two important branches have been successfully tested. In the window branch a number of factories are now operating exclusively with machines that dispense with gatherer and blower. The new Owens bottle machine is still a greater marvel. It dispenses with all expert labor, turning out the finished bottle at the end of the lehr, from the melted glass without the intervention of a single human hand — no gatherer, blower, cut-off, carrier boy. The working of this machine is not only pronounced entirely successful by manufacturers seeing its operations, but the cost of making superior finished bottles is reported to be almost halved. The same report as to cost is made in the window glass machine. The fruit jar machines have entirely superceded hand labor, and the chimney machine will practically displace expert handwork in that branch as soon as it is relieved of the handicap placed on it by the workers. The same is true of the tumbler branch, in the general line of blown tumblers. The expert glass worker, who has so tyrannically dominated the various branches of the industry, will soon be relegated to some other occupation by the machine which his arbitrary and unjust demands have developed.
Another noticeable event in the glass industry this year is the great change in locations taking place, and the development of new centers of manufacture on account of fuel conditions. Eastern Indiana has been and is losing her glass industry to a large extent. The development of glass-making sprang up suddenly some dozen or so years ago in this State upon the discovery of natural gas. This has become more unreliable every year for some time, till now a new fuel at most points is necessary. While a few are putting in gas producers for the use of coal, the majority seem to be moving away and dismantling their plants, coal not being as economical in this eastern section of the State as elsewhere. The result is that Indianapolis, Terre Haute, and one or two other point in Indiana are becoming glass manufacturing centers, while points in Illinois, Kansas, Texas, California, and Washington have received attention from those abandoning the failing gas field.
Some new gas and oil fields in Kansas, Texas, and California are attracting attention and being exploited. The fact is, however, that the average experienced manufacturer now considers coal as the only reliable basis for fuel. Its use now in the form of artificial gas, through producers, is becoming the most popular with glass manufacturers — a good many producers having been built by large factories the present year.