When people think of industry in Pittsburgh, Ohio and West Virginia, steel is often the first thing that comes-to-mind. But there were other large industries in the region, too, not the least of which was glass manufacturing. These three states produced much of the nation's glass in the Late 19th and Early 20th Centuries.
Commercial glassmaking began in Jamestown, Virginia in 1608. They mostly produced windowpanes for local building construction but also exported some to England. But famine and disaster took its toll on the colony and the operation was forced to shut down. Regional glass makers developed in later years, mostly making utilitarian items.
In 1808, Benjamin Bakewell founded what was to become a prosperous glassworks in Pittsburgh. Making a mix of practical "utilitarian" and decorative "artglass" items, Bakewell was at the leading edge of the day's glassmaking technology. Bakewell was the first American glass manufacturer to use coal; they imported (and developed) sophisticated glass cutting techniques from Europe (France and Venice), and they were the first American glassworks to supply the White House. A multitude of other glassmakers opened-shop in Western Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia. The region had the four things a commercial glassmaker required: the raw materials for production (silica), a source of heat (coal), the labor to produce the glass (much of it immigrating from glassmaking countries in Eastern Europe), and a means to transport-away the finished products (first by river, eventually by railroad).
The glassmakers of Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia remained competitive until World War II—and they worked hard to make new products which satisfied an evolving customer's tastes. In the Mid-Century, companies like Blenko (West Virginia) made highly Modernist, colorful, chunky artglass objets for modern, stylish, post-War homes.
After World War II, the world experienced a dramatic shift in the economies of mass production. Labor in the "victor" countries became increasingly expensive. Meanwhile, labor in the "vanquished" countries was desperate for work—to restart their economies. High-touch production, like glassmaking (which required lots of cheap labor), began to move overseas. American producers, who could no longer compete, began to close-up their factories. In the end, the American post-war culture of consumerism (lots of cheap, disposable merchandise) lead to the loss of domestic manufacturing.
I am not sure who made the swirling orange glass bowl, shown above. But it is reminiscent of the style and quality of West Virginia Modernist artglass of the period. Click on the photo above to learn more about it.
Though our Greenwich Village store is now permanently closed, LEO Design is still alive and well! Please visit our on-line store where we continue to sell Handsome Gifts (www.LEOdesignNYC.com).
We also can be found in Pittsburgh's historic "Strip District" at Mahla & Co. Antiques (www.mahlaantiques.com) or in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania at The Antique Center of Strabane (www.antiquecenterofstrabane.com).
Or call to arrange to visit our Pittsburgh showroom (by private appointment only). 917-446-4248