American Glass – 1600’s to 1980’s
Glass making in America began on a very basic level in the early the 1600’s in Virginia. Colonization was underway and immigrants from all over the world landed on America’s Atlantic shores. The German Dutch are credited for establishing the first glass factory which produced mainly bottles and goblets.
Although the European world was entrenched in the fanciful Age of Ornament, American settlers settled for much less. Early America glass can be described as ‘primitive’ compared to glass produced by other, much older countries.
As the glasshouses of the Atlantic coast settled in on the new continent, more and more intricate and decorative forms were produced. By the mid 1770’s glassware was meticulously blown and etched and made into full range services. Unfortunately only the well-to-do could afford to own it.
American glass was subject to the 1746 British government imposed weight tax and responded like the rest of the world with smaller, lighter designs incorporating hollow and air-twist stems and fine walled glass with light etching. This newer, lighter glassware was heralded as the new popular fashion.
In 1757 Henry William Stiegel, created a glassworks/iron foundry in Elizabeth Township, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, USA. Born in Germany, Stiegel’s style incorporated certain Bohemian characteristics with hand-etched and applied enamel decor. Stiegel glass was light-weight (bucking the British tax).
The first American glass pressing device was patented in 1825 by a member of the Bakewell family glass makers in Pittsburgh, USA. This invention allowed glass craftsmen to create duplicates with mold inherited patterns and was the birth of mass-produced glass.
John Adams (no relation to U.S. President) opened Adams Glass in Pennsylvania around 1870. Adams was the first glass maker to replace expensive lead with lime, producing affordable glass. After his death the glassworks was sold and became the US Glass, Factory A. The United States Glass Co. grew into a coalition of many glassmakers and survived until 1963. All but one of the coalition glass companies passed into history.
The Tiffin Glass plant remained and re-organized into the Tiffin Art Glass Company, ultimately closing its doors in 1980. Blenko Art Glass, Viking Art Glass, and other contemporary glass studios continued producing glass with low melting temperatures to keep the ever-rising costs down, but most were closed by the 1980’s. Blenko Art Glass, in West Virginia, along with Fenton Art Glass are the only two glass mid-century makers surviving today.
Since 1963, glassmaking in the U.S. declined due to high energy and resource costs. The industry dwindled over the next few decades and today is virtually non-existent. Corning and Anchor Hocking still exist as company names, but manufacturing of their glass brand is done overseas.
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