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Made in Appalachia: Beyond Cabins, Crafts, and Coal

Artifacts and their stories, selected from the Appalachian Studies Teaching Collection to explore Appalachian material culture beyond its stereotypical inclusions.

West Virginia Glass

Seneca Glass factory site, Morgantown, West Virginia, 1974

West Virginia has a rich and important history making glass.  At times during the last 100 years West Virginia has been a leader in producing window glass, bottles, art glass, stained glass, marbles, “depression glass,” mason jars, and tableware.

High quality silica sand is the primary ingredient for glass.  In the state’s eastern panhandle, especially Morgan County are some of the best quality glass sands in the world.  Glass sand mining developed into a major industry there in the 1890s and early 1900s and continues to the present.

New glass making technology also emerged in the 1890s. Natural gas-fueled melting tanks made older glass factories in other states obsolete, giving an advantage to West Virginia, which has abundant and cheap natural gas.  Many companies needing to upgrade simply moved their operations to West Virginia.  Communities offered incentives to attract the companies.

     

Left: Packing girls at Seneca Glass, Morgantown, West Virginia, 1908
Right: Glass blower and mold boy working in Grafton, West Virginia, 1908 
Both photos by Lewis Hine, National Child Labor Committee Project,
Images held at Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

There was also a transnational character to the glass industry.  Skilled glass workers from France and Belgium worked in the U.S. but kept their connections in Europe, often with homes and family on both sides of the Atlantic.  They also were strong union organizers, keeping union activity an important part of the story of West Virginia glass.

Mark Davis making art glass at Blenko Glass, Milton, West Virginia, 2011
Photo provided by West Virginia Deparment of Commerce

Dunbar “Aramis” Drinking Glasses (1930s)

                                                                                             [Accession 2013.27.1]

 

                                                                                             [Accession 2013.27.2]

Made by Dunbar Glass of Dunbar, West Virginia, in business from 1913 to 1953. This ringed pattern is called “Aramis.”

Kanawha Compote (ca. 1960)

[Accession 2013.25.1]

Made by Kanawha Glass Company in Dunbar, West Virginia, in business from 1955 to 1987.  It was started by craftsmen put out of work when Dunbar Glass closed in 1953.

Blenko Art Glass Tumbler (ca. 1955)

[Accession 2013.19.1]

Made by Blenko Glass, Milton, West Virginia.  Blenko has been in business since 1921 making stained glass and decorative glassware.

Depression Glass Sugar Dish (1930s)


[Accession 1969.1.151]

May have been made by Akro Agate in Clarksburg, West Virginia, in business from 1911-1951. These were often given as premiums inside bags of sugar.

West Virginia Marbles

[Accession Group 2013.24]
An assortment of West Virginia-made marbles known as swirls or aggies
from Akro Agate, Marble King, Vitro Agate, Jackson, Peltier, and others, 1930-1970

West Virginia has long been a world leader in manufacturing glass marbles. In 1911 Akro Agate of Ohio developed the first machines to make glass marbles, but in 1914 they moved to Clarksburg, West Virginia, because of good glass sand and cheap natural gas.  Marbles became big business in mid-20th century America. Other marble companies also moved to West Virginia and new ones started. Among them were Marble King, Ravenswood Novelty, Champion, Vitro Agate, and Heaton Agate.  These companies took advantage of the rich glass-making knowledge and the many mineral resources in the state, and they raised marble making to new heights. Most of these companies made other glass products, too.

In the late 20th century marbles fell out of style and most of the companies closed. Today only Marble King of Paden City, West Virginia, survives with a special emphasis on making marbles from recycled glass.

[Accession 2013.31.1]
Assorted Marbles made by Marble King, Paden City, West Virginia, 2013.  
These marbles represent some of Marble King’s current line, many made of recycled glass.

 

 

Marble King CEO Beri Fox with recycled glass destined to become marbles, 2011
Photo by Tony Patti, www.glassblower.info, used by permission.

Ohio River Dinnerware

[Accession 2013.37.1]
Divided Dinner Plate (1930s)
Made by Trenle Blake Pottery, East Liverpool, Ohio.
Intended for restaurant use.

  

[Accession 2013.37.2]
Coffee Mug (1940s)
Made by Sterling Pottery, East Liverpool, Ohio.
Intended for restaurant use.

Prior to the late 1800s, Americans who could afford china purchased imported products.  American potteries produced mostly crocks, jugs, and crude yellow ware.  Beginning in the 1880s American dinnerware manufacturers emerged with products that were durable and well designed, and appealed to American consumers. Most of this pottery renaissance happened along the Ohio River between Ohio and the northern panhandle of West Virginia. By the middle of the 20th century most American dinnerware was being made in this region and new forms, such as Fiesta Ware, hotel china, and diner china had been invented there. 

During the second half of the 20th century plastics, improved glassware, and ceramics made in Asia put the industry in decline.

Workers at Hall Pottery, East Liverpool, Ohio, 1941
from ohioriverlife.blogspot.com

 Ohio Valley China Marks

[Accession 2013.37.3]
Footed Oatmeal Bowl (ca. 1890)
Made by Homer Laughlin China Company,  Newell, West Virginia,
for their Hercules Hotel Ware line.

Southern Potteries Dessert Plate

[Accession 2004.24.1]
Made by Southern Potteries Inc., Erwin, Tennessee
The pattern was called “Berea Blossom” presumably to honor Berea College.

Southern Potteries was founded in 1917 by the Carolina, Clinchfield and Ohio Railroad.  Within a few years it settled into a product line of simple china floral designs, called “Blue Ridge China,” hand painted by local women.  At its peak in the 1930s, it made 24 million pieces annually, in nearly 3,000 different patterns, and employed over 1,000 people.  After World War II, the china fell out of style, plastics began to compete, and sales fell rapidly.  It closed in 1957.

"Doves, Roses, and Daisies” Place Setting (1950s)

[Accession 2011.27.1-3]
Made by Wheeling Decorating Company, Wheeling, West Virginia

The Wheeling Decorating Company did not make ceramics; it purchased base pieces from over 300 other companies and decorated them with gold enamel, etching, and painting.  It was in business from 1900 to 1962.  This pattern is “Doves, Roses, and Daisies,” applied to porcelain china made by the Hutschenreuther Company in Germany.  Both the raised pattern and the gold were applied by Wheeling. 

Chattanooga Glass Company and Coke Bottles

   

Coca Cola Bottle (1926)
Made by Chattanooga Glass Company, Chattanooga, Tennessee,
for use by the Atlanta, Georgia, Coca Cola Bottling Company. 

The Chattanooga Coca Cola Bottling Company was the first coke bottler and since they also licensed all other coke bottlers, for many years Chattanooga, Tennessee was the center of any Coca Cola bottlers’ world.  The Chattanooga bottling company bought its bottles from the Chattanooga Glass Company and so did many of its bottling franchisees. Chattanooga Glass became the largest maker of Coke bottles.   

In 1915 the Coca Cola Company wanted a unique bottle for Coke, one that would stand out from all other soft drinks, “even in the dark.” A competition produced the now iconic, curved “hobbleskirt bottle.” Beginning  in 1916 all Coca Cola bottlers were required to use the new bottle.  While many glass companies made the bottle, for a long time the Chattanooga Glass Company remained the largest maker of Coca Cola bottles in the U.S.

   

[Accession 2013.29.1]
Coca Cola Bottle (1950)
Made by Chattanooga Glass Company, Chattanooga, Tennessee,
for use by the Madison, Wisconsin, Coca Cola Bottling Company.

Workers making Coke bottles at Chattanooga Glass, 1952
Photo from Tennessee State Library and Archives, ID#20655