Early Glassmaking in America

A Summary of Early Glass Manufacturing in the United States

[Trade Journal]

Publication: Crockery & Glass Journal

New York, NY, United States
vol. 74, no. 25, p. 91 - 95

Early Glassmaking in America.

The honor of having made the first glassware within the limits of the thirteen colonies belongs to Virginia, and to this day Virginia and West Virginia have been prominent factors in the production of glass and glassware, West Virginia latterly having become the leading state in the manufacture of window glass, this being due to extensive deposits of natural gas, which a few years ago was available at very low prices, but as a result of a heavy drain upon the gas pockets of that state prices in some districts have been regularly advanced until cheap fuel is not the drawing card it was six or eight years ago. The London Co., which colonized Virginia, sent over with Captain Newport on his second voyage eight Poles and Germans who were to make glass and it is a remarkable fact that while Newport's vessel reached the banks of the James river in 1608, the return cargo, which started for England in 1609, contained glass bottles and vessels made in the factory built within a mile of Jamestown during the brief space of a year.

The Jamestown works made glass only a few years, the records of the colony showing that it had fallen to decay in 1617. A second factory was built by subscription in 1621 for the manufacture of beads, which passed as currency among the Indians, but the works were destroyed at the time of the massacre in 1622, the Italian glass bead makers brought over by Captain Norton escaping with their lives. The glass workers are referred to in a letter to the London Co., dated February 20th, 1623, after which all trace of them is lost, and it is highly probable that all attempts to make glass in the colony ceased after 1622.

There is a record of a factory being in operation at Alexandria, in 1787, and M. De Warville, who visited the works in 1788, states that the works exported 10,000 pounds of glass in the previous year, and gave employment to 500 hands. The latter is doubtless an exaggerated statement. No further record of glass making in Virginia exists until 1811, when a Dr. Adams, of Richmond, induced workmen from the Essex street works to accept work in his new factory in Richmond. The attempt to make glass proved a failure, and the works were abandoned after a few years. No glass was made in Virginia from that date until 1895, when a company of New Jersey workmen started a small factory with 8 pots in Alexandria, under the style of the Virginia Glass Co., and a portion of the same workmen started a green bottle factory in Richmond in 1898, with 18 pots, under the name of the Southern Glass Co.

No glass was made in West Virginia until 1815, when a flint glass works was established in Wellsburg, Brooke county, which employed 14 men and 12 youths, had a capital of $12,000, paid $8,000 in wages annually, $12,000 for raw materials and running expenses, and made excellent glassware to the amount of $20,000. At the tariff convention of 1831 Wellsburg was reported as having a factory of 15 pots, and Wheeling was credited with a 6-pot factory. In 1840 Wellsburg still had only one factory, while Wheeling reported three, the size and class of ware made not being reported. Reliable local history, however, shows that the manufacture of windows glass was established in Wheeling as early as 1821. In 1829 John and Craig Ritchie built a flint glass factory on a site opposite to what afterwards became the second ward market house, and their fine blown and rich cut glassware brought them both profit and fame. Their success induced others to embark in the business, and the celebrated works of Messrs. Sweeney, whose excellent flint and cut glassware made Wheeling famous as a glass-making center, was put into operation in North Wheeling in 1835. This was followed in 1838 by the erection of another large flint glass works in the extreme south end of the city by Plunket & Miller, the works being afterwards owned and successfully operated by Hobbs, Brockunier & Co. until 1888, after which it passed into other hands, being finally bought by the United States Glass Co. in 1892 and dismantled. With Hobbs, Brockunier & Co. was associated William Leighton, Sr., the expert and veteran glass maker, who introduced the manufacture of lime glass in the factories of the Ohio valley, the business as a result being greatly enlarged, and assuming proportions at Wheeling and Bellaire which rivaled, from 1865 to 1885, the city of Pittsburgh in be variety, quality, and volume of its products. The South Wheeling works made both pressed and fine blown flint and colored glassware, its ruby and amberina, cased and flashed ware, and crystal glass chandeliers, with cut pendants and pressed curved arms, being among the finest products of the glassmaker's art. The products of the Central Glass Co., especially its light pressed seamless stemware, which attracted the general attention of European glass makers when exhibited at the Paris Exposition in 1878, deserve special mention.

Vermont made some glass in 1840, two factories being reported in the census of that year, one being in Addison and the other in Chittenden county; but no glass has been made in that state since. Neither Rhode Island, Maine, nor Delaware ever cut any figure in the manufacture of glass, although the latter had a window works in operation at Wilmington for several years.

The first glassware made in New Hampshire was blown in the town of Temple in 1780; window glass was made at Keene in 1814, black bottles being made at the same place in 1817, and in 1840 William Parker started a window glass works at Middlesex, which continued in operation till 1848, when it was closed down as a result of the lower rates of duty imposed on foreign window glass by the tariff revision of 1845. In 1866 a bottle factory was built at South Lyndeborough and operated till 1883, when it was abandoned, since which time no glass has been made in the state.

The first factory in Connecticut was located at New Haven in 1780, a second works being in operation at Hartford in 1820 which made bottles for a term of years. In 1831 a factory is reported at Wellington, the product being window glass, but no other information about the works is recorded. In 1840 two establishments are reported in Tolland county, making $32,000 worth of glass, one of them being the Wellington works, and the other also probably making window glass. In 1850 only three works are reported; in 1860 two factories are reported in Windham county; in 1870 three factories, the product of which is not specified; and in 1880 only one flint glass works, at Meriden. Some fine cut ware is still made, in the production of which blanks made outside the state are used, no glass having been manufactured in the state since about 1880.

Maryland began to make window glass at Federal Hill, Baltimore, in 1790, while John Frederick Amelung spent a fortune in trying to establish the flint glass industry at Tuscarora Creek, four miles from Fredericktown, a pair of engraved flint goblets from the Amelung works, bearing the General's coat of arms, being presented to Washington. Three factories, making window glass and bottles, are reported in the census of 1810, two being located in Frederick and one in Baltimore counties. In 1820 three works are reported, two in Allegheny county, making bottles and window glass, and one in Baltimore, making window glass. In 1831 there were two flint bottle plants in Baltimore and one window glass factory at Baltimore and one in Cumberland.

Ohio commenced to make glass at Cincinnati in 1816, a green bottle and a window glass works being built and put into operation during that year. In 1820 both window and hollow-ware were made in Hamilton county, to the value of $19,000, while two works, making flint and cut glassware and window glass, were in operation at Zanesville during the same year. In 1831 a window glass factory at Zanesville and another at Moscow were reported, but the census of 1840 failed to report glass among the manufactured products of the state. In 1850, however, Ohio is credited with six works, in 1860 with four, in 1870 with nine, three window and six flint bottle and tableware factories. In 1880 the state had ten glassware factories, producing $1,067,320 worth of ware; four green bottle works, making $115,000 worth, and six window glass factories making $358,000 worth of glass. In 1890 Ohio had 59 factories, the discovery and utilization of natural gas in various parts of the state having given a great impetus to the industry. The thirty flint glass works produced $3,554,370 worth of ware; seven green bottle factories made $519,015 worth of glass, while twenty-two window glass works made $1,575,797 worth, or a total of $5,649,182, placing Ohio next to Pennsylvania as the second largest glass producing state in the union. In 1900, however, she dropped to third place, her former position being taken by Indiana.

Of the Southern States, only Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee made any glass prior to 1880. Alabama had a small flint bottle factory in operation at Birmingham in 1889, but it operated only a few months. Mississippi had a window glass works about 1881 near the coast, in which Samuel Campbell and other Pittsburgh workmen were interested, but the intense heat and dissatisfaction among the workmen led to its speedy discontinuance. Georgia built her first flint bottle, chimney, and glassware factory in 1885, under the management of August Weyer, who took with him a set of workmen from Wheeling, Brilliant, and Bellaire, the factory continuing for several years.

Illinois built her first factory at Alton in 1867, which has since become one of the largest flint and green bottle works in the world. Other works were built at a later period at LaSalle, Ottawa, and Streator, window glass and bottles being the main product, though at present figured and rough and ribbed glass and bottles are being extensively made at Streator.

California's first glass works, making bottles, was started in 1863 at San Francisco, the works having latterly been greatly improved and enlarged.

Iowa had a window glass factory at Buffalo about 1875, but it only operated during one year, and was abandoned. Kansas built her first factory at Fort Scott in 1893, but the works were abandoned after operating a few months. Wyoming had a window glass works at Laramie City in 1890, but it was abandoned after working a part of two years. Minnesota had a chimney and a general flint factory at Minneapolis in 1890, which operated about two years, and then shared the fate of the majority of far western factories. Colorado started a flint glass works in Denver some years ago, whose furnace blazed for a season and was extinguished, its only factory at present being a six-pot bottle plant at Valverde. Wisconsin has a large bottle factory at Milwaukee which has operated successfully since 1881.


Keywords:Hemingray : Hemingray Glass Company : California Glass Works : Western Glass Manufacturing Company : Lyndeboro Glass Company
Researcher notes: 
Supplemental information: 
Researcher:Bob Stahr
Date completed:December 31, 2006 by: Glenn Drummond;