New England Glass Company 1818 -1888
Wm. L. Libbey & Sons Props, Cambridge MA. 1878 – 1888
Name was changed to The Libbey Glass Company and move to Toledo, OH, 1892
The history below is from excerpts of a history written by Lori Johnson from www.patternglass.com & other historical research.
New England Glass Company
The glass industry was attracted to New England for many of the same reasons it was attracted to other locations throughout history; access to natural fuel resources, availability to world marketplaces, and a ready work force. Of the many glass houses in New England in the early to mid-1800s, two of the best known were The New England Glass Company and The Boston and Sandwich Glass Company. The New England Glass Company was located in the Cambridge area of Boston. The use of the term "Cambridge Glass" in literature has led to some confusion with the somewhat later Cambridge Glass Company of Cambridge, Ohio.
The New England Glass Company was incorporated in 1818. Deming Jarvis, the only one of the four owners with practical business experience. He was to run the shop. Mr. Jarvis, born in Boston into a wealthy family, had working experience in the dry goods business before joining the NEGC. He had a unique talent for selecting the right men and getting them to come to work for him, including some of Europe's most skillful cutters. Deming's father died in 1823, leaving him with considerable wealth and he also spent some time in Pittsburgh studying the local methods of glass making.
In the beginning NEGC had 2 furnaces, twelve pots & a cutting department with 24 cutting mills, which were steam-operated glass-cutting mills, and a red-lead furnace, which in combination could produce many types of plain, molded, and cut glass. The company charter permitted it to manufacture "flint and crown glass (this is the round flat glass used in window panes of that time period) of all kinds in the towns of Boston and Cambridge." At that time, about 40 glass factories existed in the United States, though most had few employees. Deming Jarves held one key advantage, which was that he held the American monopoly on red lead which was essential for the production of fine lead glass.
The shop was an immediate success. During 1823, 140 workers produced ten tons of glassware weekly. A large percentage of which was cut and sent to Boston for sale. Much of the company's success was credited to the head gaffer or superintendent, Thomas Leighton Sr. who came to the NEGC in 1826. He was the father of 7 sons, 6 of whom became glass workers. Deming Jarvis left the NEGC in 1826 to supervise the construction of The Sandwich Glass Company. He was succeeded by Henry Whitney who remained manager of the company for twenty years.
Mean while the glass pressing machine was invented in ca 1825, and it greatly increased production in all of the glass houses. By 1828, the NEGC products were being marketed through New York, Philadelphia and Baltimore.
By 1849, it was recognized as the largest glass company in the world with 500 employees. The huge volume of flint glass production necessitated the use of 2 1/2 tons of lead each year. Lead dust in the air and on the floor and work surfaces exposed the workers to dangerous lead poisoning. In 1864, after having moved to Hobbs, Brockunier & Co from NEGC, William Leighton, a son of Thomas Leighton, developed a successful soda lime formula for glass, eliminating the need for lead in the mix. The new soda lime glass was safe, cheaper to make, and better for pressing because it was harder, thinner and cooled faster.
Lead glass is softer and better for cutting and there was much discussion among companies about whether to switch to the new formula or continue with the flint. Nearly all the other companies changed for economic reasons but the NEGC, believing the new glass to be inferior, refused to change resulting in their suffering enormous competition.
In 1872, William Libbey, who had been part owner of the Mount Washington Glass Co., became the agent for NEGC. Throughout the 1870s NEGC became best known for its superior cut and engraved produced, and its pure metal and elaborate decorations. The Company's exhibit at the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia in 1876 raised attention and interest in cut glass and created new markets around the world.
This was essentially the beginning of the Brilliant Cut Glass period in America and in the minds of the NEGC officials, vindicated their choice to stay with the use of only lead glass.
Nevertheless the 1870s, were difficult times for the NEGC because of competition of the cheaper glass, mismanagement of the officers & directors, the loss of most of the skillful workers and the dishonesty of the remaining workers, many of whom were making and selling competing products on their own.
The company flourished as one of America's leading glass manufacturers through the Civil War, but the development of inexpensive soda-lime glass in West Virginia brought a deep decline in sales. Soda Lime glass did not require the red lead which NEGC had a monopoly on. There was a significant drop in sales from about $500,000 in 1865 to $232,304 in 1876. This resulted in a reduction in workforce to only 200 laborers. These were difficult times for the NEGC because of the competition from the cheaper glass, lack of red lead sales, the mismanagement of the officers & directors, the loss of most of the skillful workers and the dishonesty or disgruntle feelings of the remaining workers, many of whom were making and selling competing products on their own. The buildings and materials were put up for sale in April 1877 and it was leased to Wm. Libbey in 1878. William Libbey was their agent since 1870.
Lack of fuel plagued the New England companies; pine forests were depleted and coal had to be shipped in at great expense. Mr. Libbey, however, continued to make first quality products and to introduce many new color lines.
After William Libbey's death in 1883, his son, Edward, who had been named a partner in 1880, took over the reins of the renamed firm, Wm. Libbey & Son. Labor Unions formed by glass workers led to problems and dirty tricks leading to strikes in thirty New England glass houses at one time and the closure of Wm. Libbey & Son for six months. When the Company reopened, Edward said that if the fires died again, he would never rekindle them.
And so when another strike occurred in 1888, he closed the plant and moved to Toledo, Ohio where he and many of his workers continued to make fine cut glass under the name of Libbey Glass Company. One year later, the property of The New England Glass Company was sold and in 1921 the great chimney was taken down. During the life of the company pure, clear, flawless and beautifully finished glass equal to any in the world was produced. Early pieces had rough pontils but later they were ground and fire polished
Glass was cut, etched, acid treated and satin finished by some of the most skilled workmen in the business and beautiful colors such as ruby, brown, black; emerald & light opaque green; dark, turquoise, powder & opaque blue; purple, canary yellow, rose and pink alabaster were produced.
Many pieces were gold gilded or opalescent and in the 1880s, art glass types were developed including amberina, peach blow and pomona. NEGC was the only company to make the ruby layered and cut away style lamps. Some of the Company's other well-known flint glass patterns are WASHINGTON, NEW YORK and VERNON HONEYCOMB. And while their flint glass was said to be clearer with unusual weight and ring, much of it has been misidentified in early pattern glass literature.
Glass workers were a close knit group, living in company provided cottages in small, neat sections of town. Before alarm clocks, a watchman went door to door calling out their names and telling them it was time to go to work. Families intermarried, sons followed fathers for generations and we recognize the same family names, such as Leighton & Libby as we study glass history.
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