South Side (Birmingham), Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

A Concise History

[Trade Journal]

Publication: China, Glass & Lamps

Pittsburgh, PA, United States
vol. 27, no. 7, p. 10, col. 1 - 2

Early South Side Glass History.

Birmingham, which was named after the famous manufacturing city of England by Dr. Belford, who had come from there as one of the very first settlers on what is now called the South Side, Pittsburg, rapidly attained success of its own after the same general fashion of the British city. Particularly did this success follow the pursuit of the glass industry. The narrow strip of available territory reaching along the southern shore of the Monongahela river was not sufficiently large to contain the great glass industry and so many companies had to leave.

Among the first of these glass factories was that of Chris Ihmsen, which was located on the site of the present South Side High School at South Tenth and Carson streets, about the year 1830. After some years Thomas Atterbury obtained the property, while he was succeeded in turn by George A. Macbeth, who some years ago moved the plant to Charleroi, Pa. It is curious to know that the various glass factories in those days were dubbed with nicknames by the mill workers and the population of Birmingham generally. They were seldom spoken of by their firm names. For instance, because of the fact that the Ihmsen factory was always kept whitewashed, it earned the title of the "White House," by which name it was known all over the country; in fact, glassworkers of the present day still refer to it under that appellation.

Other well known glass works in the days of old Birmingham were styled the Dolly Varden, located on Tunnel street; Circus, Seventeenth street; Jenny Lind, Twelfth street; Grecian Bend, on the Bluff; the Blood Tub, Pride street; Dandy Jim, Soho; the Crib, or Box, Tenth street; the Bush, Eighth street; Butcher's Block, and the Buzzard's Roost, on Seventeenth street.

Philip Arbogast, a name well known in the glass trade, made the first experiments at the old Dolly Varden works for the purpose of encasing underground telegraph wires in glass. He obtained his patents about the year 1877-8. Mr. Arbogast was not only an expert workman in this very interesting and difficult occupation, but he was of an inventive mind as well. So it was that he conceived the idea of imbedding telegraph wire in glass sections, to be laid end to end, and joined by non-conducting ligaments, the whole to serve the unique purpose of an underground cable.

Among the important industries in Birmingham was the glass plant of James, Robert, and John Bryce, who came over from Scotland and began business at South Twenty-first street and the river front. They mad flint glass, fine tableware and the like, and about 17 years ago removed to Mt. Pleasant, their interests in Birmingham being taken over by the United States Glass Co.

It was about 1863 that Matthew, Alexander, and James Chambers were operating a bottle and window glass factory at what is now South Sixth and Birmingham streets, while Alexander and Philip Arbogast conducted a bottle factory at South Twenty-seventh and Jane streets. It will be remembered that these men, with other manufacturers of Birmingham, used to send their workmen to the old fort at the head of Twenty-second street during the war period to make defenses against the dreaded invasion of the Southern troops. At South Twenty-first and Twenty-second streets, D. O. Cunningham, the glass man, Charles Forester and others established a skating rink. This was about the year 1867. No admission was charged and it was simply used as a common place of amusement. In the winter evenings the rink was lighted by many Chinese lanterns and there was plenty of wholesome pleasure.


Keywords:Hemingray : Pittsburgh
Researcher notes:Robert Hemingray and Ralph Gray both worked in Pittsburgh glass houses prior to going to Cincinnati in 1848. It is known that Robert worked at Phillips & Co., Ralph worked at Birmingham in an unknown factory.
Supplemental information: 
Researcher:Bob Stahr
Date completed:November 26, 2006 by: Glenn Drummond;