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History of Millersburg Glass Co. 

1908 - 1911

Millersburg, Ohio

 

Millersburg Glass Company, photos below

     The Millersburg Glass Co. was founded in 1908 and started glass production in mid-May 1909 in Millersburg, Ohio.  The founder was John W. Fenton with financial backing of others including H. W. Stanley, Charles Grass and A. J. Richards Marietta, all businessmen.  Frank L. Fenton (John’s brother) also owned stock.  The factory was custom-built to John W. Fenton’s specifications.  At the time, the factory was supposedly state of the art.  The factory had a 14-pot furnace, three “glory holes,” six tempering lehrs–6’ wide by 55’ long, and a decorating lehr that was 90’ long.  The main building was built of concrete, steel, and iron–300’ long by 100’ wide by 28’ height.  Ancillary systems included a 25 hp electric ventilation system, an electric-driven air compressor, and a Fairbanks Morse power plant.  The equipment in the molding room and mold cleaning department were driven by an electric motor connected to belts and jack shaft.  The grinding department had five frames.  The grinding equipment was driven by 5 hp electric motors, not a steam engine.  At the time of the plant startup, the furnace was fed natural gas from two dedicated gas lines connected to dedicated gas wells.  Each line was capable of operating the furnace at capacity. 

Newly designed molds were ordered and delivered from the Hipkins Novelty Mold Company of Martins Ferry, OH for the new factory.               

As a quick comparison, Mt. Washington Glass Co., (when it moved its operation to New Bedford, MA from Boston in November of 1869), had one 10-pot furnace and 15 frames in the cutting shop.  In 1880, Mt. Washington built a second furnace and later decreased their number of engravers.

     John W. Fenton, Millersburg founder, was born near Indiana, PA.  Little has been documented about his first 30 years of life.  However, we do know that his younger brother, Frank Leslie Fenton entered the glass business as a decorator for Northwood Glass Company in Indiana, PA in 1897, shortly after his high school graduation.  Frank L. Fenton and John W. Fenton were employed by the Jefferson Glass Company in Steubenville, OH from 1900 to 1903.  It is also known when Harry Bastow, President of Jefferson Glass Co., left Steubenville, OH to start his own company in Coudersport, PA, both John and Frank Fenton went with him.  Frank was the Decorating Department Manager at the Coudersport operation.  John’s position at Coudersport was unknown. 

When the Coudersport facility was destroyed by fire in 1904, both Frank and John Fenton found employment at the H. Northwood and Company plant in Wheeling, West Virginia.  The 1905-06 Wheeling city directory listed John W. Fenton’s occupation as a “decorator.”  In approximately a year, Frank and John decided to go into business for themselves.  They rented part of the Haskins Glass Company in Martins Ferry, OH.  Glass was not being made there, so the Fentons purchased and decorated blanks only from the glassmakers. From what is known, they quickly became successful at this endeavor.  Next, the two brothers decided they should own their own glass factory.  They built a new factory in Williamstown, West Virginia.   The new factory was completed in January of 1907 and was known as the Fenton Art Glass Company.  John W. Fenton was the President and Frank L. Fenton was the General Manager and Secretary-Treasurer.  Charles H. Fenton was the Vice-President.  Although John had the main title, Frank ran the operation; he was the man in charge.  Historical accounts indicate that John was a great promoter and was good at the formative stages of the new endeavor.  He was also reported as being rather impetuous and extravagant in life, whereas Frank Fenton was known to be careful and conservative in business practices.

Fenton’s Art Glass success was accelerated in December of 1907 when they introduced iridescent glassware production into their product line.  Fenton was one of the first major promoters of iridized glass.  Fenton produced large amounts of iridescent glass for many years and did well. However, Fenton Art Glass did not invent iridized glass or develop the original methods for its manufacture.

By 1908, John W. Fenton left Fenton Art Glass Co. to start the Millersburg Glass Company.  The February 11, 1909 copy of Crockery and Glass Journal stated: “Mr. Fenton (meaning John W. Fenton) will retain the president of the Fenton Co., but will devote all his time to the new factory (meaning Millersburg Glass), of which he is the sole owner.”  This was a confusing statement since John W. Fenton was not the sole owner of Millersburg Glass Company because there were other investors.  He may have been the majority stockholder, but we are unsure and honestly doubt it.  When referring to the president of the Fenton Art Glass Company, he was a founder with his brother Frank L. Fenton.  Frank was running the Fenton Art Glass. John Fenton’s position may have been more synonymous or comparable to a modern, paid board position as a senior stockholder. 

In February 1909, (prior to the Millersburg plant startup in May), John Fenton had samples made from his new molds and was taking orders for glass.  When the plant started operations, their first production was crystal glassware.  The first pattern produced was most likely the “Ohio Star,” factory designation #353, which is an imitation cut glass.  The other pattern made was #358 now known as Hobstar and Feather.  History indicates the remaining year of 1909 Millersburg plant had plenty of orders.  In 1910, Millersburg introduced its first iridescent glass including its new latest colored glass that was known as “Radium.” Millersburg’s new iridescent glass line was well received.  However, Millersburg Glass Company had financial problems from the beginning and they worsened until about two dozen lawsuits had been filed.  Bankruptcy ended Millersburg Glass production in 1911.  The factory was finally sold for less than one-half the appraised value.

Samuel B. Fair purchased the factory on September 23, 1911.  Mr. Fair and others, including John W. Fenton, formed a new company, the “Radium Glass Company” on October 12, 1911, and the factory was fully operational by mid-November 1911.  Unfortunately by May 1912, the Radium Glass Company ceased operations.  Jefferson Glass Company purchased the factory in 1913.   Jefferson produced lighting glassware sporadically for a few years until the fall of 1916.  Jefferson shut down the Millersburg plant and consolidated their operations at Follansbee, West Virginia.  Later, all of the glasshouse fixtures and furnaces were removed and the factory was used for other purposes.      

For the next decade, John W. Fenton’s name was linked by the industrial press in connection with several new glassmaking ventures that never amounted to much.  John W. Fenton remained in Millersburg where he lived until his death on January 11, 1934 at the age of 64.

For the collector of Millersburg Glass, there remain beautiful examples of glass that have long out-lived the Millersburg Glass Company.  For the rose bowl collector, one of Millersburg first products made in crystal was the Ohio Star and Hobstar and Feather patterned rose bowls.  Millersburg also produced iridescent carnival glass rose bowls.  (See our glass patterns section for a list of patterns produced by Millersburg Glass Company.)

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