top of page
Search

Indiana’s Glass Legacy: A Chronicle of Industry, Innovation, and Ultimate Decline

Introduction

In the annals of Indiana County’s industrial history, the glass industry stands as a testament to resilience, innovation, and the inevitable cycles of economic fortune.  Today, when we think about Indiana’s leading industries, thoughts may gravitate towards institutions like IUP or IRMC, but there was a time when the answer was quite different.


The Birth of Indiana Glass Company

Our story commences on January 1, 1892, when a group of visionary leaders gathered in the office of State Senator George W. Hood to consider a proposal by Mr. Nevill, a glass expert with revolutionary ideas which included glass molds which claimed would reduce the labor required and increase production by a third to a half.


The result was the formation of the Indiana Glass Company with an initial stock of $50,000. Harry White, W.B. Marshall, Griffith Ellis, Thomas Sutton, John S. Hastings, H.W. Wilson, and Delos A. Hetrick served as directors.  It was announced that the factory would be constructed on the old State Experimental Farm (presently the parking lot adjoining Miller Stadium on IUP campus). 


Production began Monday afternoon, November 14, 1892, following a speech at 2 p.m. by Judge Harry White.  Afterward citizens were invited to view the plant.  S.W. Vandersaal was the first superintendent, succeeded by Griffith Ellis for about a year.


Initial Struggles and the Resilience of Harry Northwood

Despite the initial pledge of $50,000 in stock, the company faced financial troubles by 1894, leading to a shutdown.  The stockholders held a meeting in July and learned that only $34,800 of the capital stock had been paid in.  The cost of erecting and equipping the factory was $29,000; operating expenses of $14,000.  Manufactured glassware on hand was valued at $2,200 and accounts receivable were $700, leaving a net debt of $8,100.


A committee of J.W. Sutton, Griffith Ellis, S.L. Loughry, John Hastings, and J.H. Young was formed to recommend plans for liquidating the debts and resuming production.  Their findings were that the glass factory was “a failure financially” and it did not appear possible to procure more working capital.  Additionally, because “many similar plants are idle and can be bought for a small fraction of their value” it was doubtful whether it could be sold “for even its present indebtedness.”


The overall recommendation was to lease the plant, rent free, for a year with the option to purchase as the end of the year for the year for the accrued indebtedness.  The recommendation was adopted by the stockholders.


However, in 1896, the plant found new life when it was leased by Harry Northwood, a successful owner and operator of two other glass plants.  Renamed the Northwood Company, the factory resumed production on March 25, 1896, and flourished under the management of Thomas E.A. Dugan. 


Growth and Challenges

The plant faced challenges, including a potential move to Blairsville in 1897, because Northwood had requested the Indiana Borough Council to install a fire hydrant at the plant six months previously, but council had not answered.  Because Northwood had not purchased the Indiana plant, he was free to leave.  This apparently motivated Council to install the fire hydrant.


Northwood was not done making demands or improvements.  Many of the employees at the plant, who walked the most direct route, had to walk through mud, ankle deep in some places, traveling the streets behind the Normal School.  Northwood built a cinder path from the plant to the borough limits and offered to furnish cinders free of cost to the council, if they would build the walks over the much-needed places in the borough.


In February 1898, it was learned that Northwood had arranged to buy the plant for $8,000.  A condition of the sale was that Northwood would remain and operate the plant for three to five years, at the end of which time, he would receive a clear deed.  At this time, the factory was running day and night, employing 225 people.


In July 1899, it was announced that the factory would be enlarged followed by another announcement on September 4 that the company was sold to the National Glass Company of Pittsburgh.


In 1902, Northwood liquidated his interests in the National Glass Company and went to Wheeling, West Virginia, where he established another glass factory.


The factory continued to do well in Indiana.  On June 16, 1903, the National Glass Company entered a float in the Indiana County Centennial parade “on which was displayed all kinds of glassware, and many little glass chains which kept up a merry jingle as the wagon was driven over the streets.  Fifty-four glass workers walked before the float carrying glass canes.”


In January 1904, the National Glass Company experienced financial difficulties and sold the plant to Dugan Glass Company for $45,000, which included $32,000 worth of glassware in stock.  By 1907, Dugan Glass Company was the largest industry in Indiana.  It was Dugan’s ability, experience and wide acquaintance that led to the success of the company.


The Glassmaking Process

The ingredients for making glass were sand, lime, soda, and special coloring substances.  These were put into ten iron pots arranged around a circular gas-fired furnace.  When the mixture had melted, a gatherer removed the molten glass by inserting a long steel bar with a knob at the end.  When enough molten glass had adhered, he took it to either a blower who blew it into various shapes, or to a presser, depending on the shape of the molten glob.  The presser compressed the glass into various forms using a mold with a hand-operated lever.


A snap-up man removed the glass with a clamp-type device called a snap and returned it briefly to the heating process, then took it to a finisher for special touches.  Carry-over boys brought the glass to a lehr – a 65-foot conveyor belt – for final cooling, inspection, counting and packing.  The latter work was done by women who relegated imperfect pieces to the scrap barrels for reheating.


Also at the plant was a decorating room, where women polished pieces and applied paints free hand in flower and leaf patterns, and gold rims on glasses.  In the cutting section, men etched fine designs not other pieces, using carborundum stones.

Wages ranged from 17 cents an hour (approximately $5.49 today) for beginning women and ranged up to $6 a day (approximately $193.73) for skilled blowers and decorators.  Those working in the furnace area were plagued with extreme heat.  But it was all necessary work and provided jobs for the entire area as some employees commuted by streetcar from Ernest, Homer City and other points along the line.  Every summer there was a layoff period so repairs could be made to the furnace.


On January 31, 1912, an early morning fire destroyed the mold shop and a large quantity of expensive patterns leading to a loss of $20,000 to $25,000.  But this did not end the industry, as the plant was rebuilt.  In 1915, the company was sold to the Diamond Glassware Company.  It was at this time that Mr. Dugan left.


The Glass Plant Prospers

Business boomed during the World War I years, mainly due to the closure or destruction of many European glass factories.  Orders were booked months ahead, and some orders had to be turned down.  In 1916, the monthly payroll was $16,000.


After the war, business declined, but continued reasonably good until 1930 when the effects of the Depression began to be felt and the employees were put on part-time employment.


The Decline

Disaster struck on June 27, 1931, when fire destroyed the stockroom and $30,000 worth of finished glassware, the decorating room, packing room, and office.  The loss was estimated at $100,000, or close to $2 million today.  This tragedy coupled with the nationwide Depression, proved too much.  Although there was talk of rebuilding, it would never be accomplished and the plant never resumed operation, ending an era of Indiana industry.


Legacy

The Indiana Glass Company’s rise and fall left an indelible mark on Indiana County’s history.  The echoes of glass clinking, the hum of machinery, and the camaraderie among workers are now distant memories.  Today, we reflect on the glass legacy – a chronicle of industry, innovation, and the inevitable decline that shaped the economic landscape of Indiana.

75 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All

Comments


bottom of page