Sunday, February 5, 2012

Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About The Missouri Glass Company

I'm serious.  This article, which appeared in the Daily Missouri Republican on October 23, 1859, is absolutely everything you ever wanted to know (and more) about the Missouri Glass Company.  Since the thing runs three thousand words, I'll give you some of the important information up top:

-The company was founded in May of 1859.  This is interesting because it helps us date Merritt Griswold's arrival in St. Louis.  One would have to believe that Griswold, who went to work for the company when he moved to St. Louis, arrived after the company came into existence.  Griswold coming to St. Louis in the late spring or early summer of 1859 fits with the information that we already have.

-Edward Bredell, Jr., Griswold's Cyclone Club teammate, was actually the company's business manager.  That surprised me a bit.  I knew he worked for the company but didn't know that he ran it.  So, basically, Griswold worked for his teammate.  

-Archibald Gamble, the father of Cyclone Club members Joseph and Rufus Gamble, was one of the investors in the company.  I knew about the relationship between the Gamble and Bredell families and this just supports that.  

Anyway, if you read this whole thing (and I do recommend it), you'll know more about 19th century glass making than 99.9% of the people on the planet.  So, you'll have that going for you: 

The Manufacture of Glass In St. Louis—Interesting Visit To The Works—A Morning With The Glass Blowers.—Everybody is acquainted with the transparent, hard and brittle substance which is called glass, for its use is limited to no country, and to no condition of life.  The Knowledge of its properties is universal.  The babe that delights to flatten its nose against the window pane, glories in its translucency, which it soon comes to understand; and it does not require long to find out that glass, though hard and durable, will break, as shown by the careless knocking off a tumbler from the table or the casual displacement of the camphor bottle from the mantel.  We used to think that glass was everywhere, being led to this conclusion by the number of broken bits which found their way into the balls and heels of our youthful trotters when, in summer, we flung our shoes into a corner and “went barefoot.”  But everybody don’t know all about glass, about the way it is made and how fashioned into the beautiful shapes which meet us everywhere we go, and about the people who, if they do not exactly “live” in glass houses at least spend a good deal of time there.

For our own part, until the other day, we had never been inside a glass house, and, except by hear-say, which the lawyers will tell you is poor testimony, knew as little of the manufacture of glass as we did of glaciers.  We take it for granted there are others as ignorant as we, and will be surprised if some notes which we have picked up will not prove both interesting and instructive.

The Missouri Glass Works.

West of Arsenal stand the Works of the Missouri Glass Company, a corporation which was chartered by the Legislature last winter, but which was not fully organized till May last.  The stock of this Company is principally owned by Edward Bredell, Sr., Archibald Gamble and James W. and Samuel Wallace.  The latter two are brothers, and practical men, having been in the business, one twenty-seven and the other twenty-five years.  The Company have five acres of ground, on which are something like $50,000 worth of improvements.  Edward Daily is the Secretary of the corporation, and the business management of the concern is in the hands of Edward Bredell, Jr., who has an office near the corner of Olive and Fifth streets.  The Messrs. Wallace have the general superindendence of the works, direction of the men employed, &c. 

Facilities Enjoyed.

The facilities for making glass here are excellent, and it is said they will compare very favorably with those afforded at any other point in the country.—The great desideratum is sand of the proper quality, and in this particular the Missouri Glass Company avail themselves of very great advantages.  In Franklin county, this State, on the line of the Pacific Railroad, is a bluff of sand of remarkable whiteness and fineness, which is fifty feet in height, a quarter of a mile long and goodness only knows how deep, which probably contains enough to furnish the whole world for a century.  The bank may be said to be inexhaustible.  Such is the fame of this sand that a quantity of it is exported to Pittsburgh, and is thought to be the best for manufacturing glass in the known world.  We have a sample of it which is as fine and white as loaf sugar.  The transportation of the sand to the works is attended with but little cost.  A car is switched off immediately under the “quarry,” which is easily loaded and brought to the city at trifling rates of freight.

Another considerable item is the clay used in making the pots in which the materials of the glass are fused.  The pots must be of such a quality as to withstand the most intense heat without breaking or cracking; and as at best these vessels cannot last more than a few months, their constant manufacture becomes a matter of economic necessity with every glass establishment.  The German clay has long been considered of most excellence to withstand fire in making glass, but it has been ascertained that the clay which is found in large quantities at Cheltenham, in this county, and which for two or three years has been used for fire-brick, possesses all the qualities required for the purpose alluded to, being heavy, ductile, coherent, compact, and showing great lack of fusibility. 

In the particulars of sand and clay, therefore, the Missouri Glass Company may take advantage of natural conveniences which are not enjoyed to the same extent, perhaps, at any other large city in the country.  There are various other facilities found herebouts which make St. Louis an important point for the location of glass works.  The principal draw-backs, as we learn, which place this city behind Pittsburgh in this respect is the difficulty of obtaining hands and the difference, in favor of the latter place, in the price of coal.  But these drawbacks are more than counterbalanced by superior advantages. 

The Premises.

As we have before said, the grounds of the Glass Company embrace five acres, situated west of the Arsenal, in the lower part of the city.  The improvements consist of several buildings, erected expressly for the different purposes for which they are used, being divided off in separate compartments.  We do not intend to describe these buildings, but only to say that they appear to us to have every convenience required.  Piled up about the yard is a great quantity of glassware in boxes-“right side up with care”-awaiting shipment, with here and there a heap of straw or hay to be used in keeping the breakables a proper distance apart when they shall be placed in layers in barrel, hogshead or box.  Elsewhere is a mass of old glass of every shape known to geometry and of rainbow hues-broken tumblers, window panes, bottle necks, inkstands, pitchers, etc., etc., etc.  On the whole, the grounds look as though business was done there, and that of an interesting kind.  The reader will please step with Mr. Bredell and us into

The Pottery.

Here is a long, dry cellar, as it were, paved on the bottom, and appearing as neat and cleanly as a good housewife’s kitchen.  The pots for melting glass are made here.  After the clay has gone through a mill, and been ground into fine particles, it is passed through a sieve, to relieve it of all extraneous substances.  It is then put into a large trough, and water poured upon it, to give it consistency, when it is ready to be mixed like bread.  The dough, for the mixture looks something like that, is moulded and moulded and moulded, day after day, being trampled by a pair of good-sized feet, attached to the lower part of the body of a stout Hibernian, till it becomes smooth and moist throughout, and every particle adheres.  This requires about two weeks, at the end of which time the clay is moulded into the shape of large deep tubs, called pots, which are set aside for six or eight weeks, to become perfectly dry.  The pots are heated to a very high temperature before they are put in the furnace, which is done to prevent their cracking and flying to pieces. 

The Mixing Room.

The mixing room is the place where the materials for the manufacture of glass are prepared.  Flint, or white glass, is made of sand, potash, saltpeter, oxyd of lead, arsenic, manganese, and sometimes other substances.  The sand has to be washed, burned and sifted, to relieve it of all organic matter, which, if left, would give a greenish tinge to the glass.  Everything about the room is kept with most scrupulous neatness and care.  It is necessary in order to turn out superior qualities of work, that this apartment should be at all times perfectly clean; and we opine that no pastry cook in the incorporation of the ingredients of an extra fine cake is more attentive and particular than the workmen in this department. 

In one corner of the mixing room is a place to refine and purify pearl-ash.  The refined quality is used for flint glass and the residue, which is called “slurry,” is thrown aside to be employed for green glass, or the poorer quality.  The oxyd of lead, which forms one of the components of glass is made on the premises in a neat building erected for the purpose.  The process is an interesting one.  There is a sort of oven, containing an iron bath tub into which receptacle pigs of lead are thrown and subjected to the heat of the furnace.  The lead melts, and as a draft of air is allowed to pass over it, forms a scum.  This is pushed back over the inclined rim of the bath tub, where it is baked to more thoroughly extract the metallic substances, and comes out the oxyd of lead.  It may do to state here that the process of oxidation increases the weight of the lead ten per cent, a pig of one hundred pounds producing one hundred and ten of the oxyd. 

The Green Glass House.

We are now ready to enter the green glass house and see the men at work making bottles.  Green glass is the commonest quality, and is made of sand, lime, soda and salt.  The materials are not worked with much particularity and care, as this would add to the cost of the ware.  The color from which it takes its name is produced by the foreign substances, which it requires considerable labor to remove. 

The green glass-house is a square building, having in the center a large furnace, provided with five pots.  A fireman for day and night stands pitching lumps of coal upon the fire continually, and we can assure the reader climate thus generated is exceedingly warm, being over a thousand degrees in intensity.  Every one of the pots holds twelve hundred pounds of material, and each is “worked out” every day, thus turning out, independent of waste, six thousand pounds per week.  The pots in the green house furnace last from three to four months before becoming unfit for further use.  In the building are twelve annealing ovens, where the glass is placed after it has gone through the manipulations of the blowers, for the purpose of cooling it gradually to make it less brittle.  The process of annealing, or nealing, as the workmen call it, is one exceedingly simple, but of the highest importance.  We were shown a lump of unannealed glass which looked strong enough to “fell a bull,” but which broke into countless pieces on the merest touch of our pen-knife.  No sooner does a piece of work leave the hands of the blowers than it is taken to the oven, where it remains from thirty-six to fifty-two hours, the heat being allowed to die out slowly beneath it. 

The Glass Blowers.

In the green-house we saw fifteen men and twenty boys at work.  The men were ranged around the furnace, each with his hollow iron rod or stem.  Dipping the end of this pipe into one of the pots containing the molten factitious metal, the workmen twirls it out with a quantity of the white semi-fluid attached.  Keeping the rod revolving he passes the “dip” over a stove plate which serves to roll the glass out.  Then applying his metal to the tube, he inflates the glass with air till it assumes a certain size, when he gently dips it into a mould which opens or shuts with the touch of his foot.  Another blow in the tube presses the glass against the sides of the mould, filling it completely, and after a moment’s pause the mould is thrown open, like waffle irons, disclosing the shape of a soda bottle, Godrey’s cordial vial, castor oil bottle, essence vial, or whatever the matrix is intended to fashion.  It is amusing to witness the contortions of countenance shown by the blowers when filling their tubes with wind.  Their cheeks swell up to a most extraordinary size, as though practice had given them a strange ability to stretch; their eyes appear to sink in their heads, and wear a peculiar wildness which, under other circumstances, would be alarming, and every feature is irresistibly ludicrous.  This remark, however, has not an universal application, for some of the workmen do their blowing with apparent ease.

After the bottle comes from the mould, a rim is adroitly placed upon the neck, and a sudden twitch releases from the tube the new-made vessel, which is caught on an iron prong by a boy in waiting, who takes it off to the annealing oven, the blower meantime having taken another dip into the pot.  We were astonished at the uniform good guessing of the blowers in making these dips and bringing out every time just the required amount of metal.  We were told that, in taking out from the pot, an experienced workman will not vary half an ounce from the proper amount in a whole day.  On inquiring how expert the blowers were in getting out work, we were informed that a deaf and dumb man named William Diamond recently made fifty-two dozen soda bottles in a day!  This was certainly proof that Diamond, though deprived of hearing and speech, is highly gifted in the way of wind.

The Flint-Glass House

Is a very commodious circular building, provided with a large “nine pot furnace.”  Here every kind of flint or white glassware is made, from an insulater for a lightening rod to the most costly globe.—This is the only establishment west of the Allegheny Mountains where plated glass is made.  Even in Pittsburgh and Wheeling, which are somewhat noted for the manufacture of glass, this kind is not made.  The large plated globes which were exhibited at the late Fair by the Missouri Glass Company, and which attracted great attention, were splendid samples, and we doubt if anything of the sort got up in this country could surpass them.  We were shown some tumblers made here which, compared with the celebrated French glass tumblers, are very little, if any, inferior.  A large business is done by this Company in the manufacture of lamp shades, chimneys, &c.  For this work the very best hands are required, men of experience in the business, judgment and taste.  It would be worth the while of anybody to visit the flint-glass house and observe the skill displayed by the blowers in the manipulation of glass.  We cannot undertake to describe the wonders we saw there, nor tell of the many pretty shapes into which we witnessed a mass of liquid glass formed.  While we were there, Mr. Samuel Wallace took off his coat, and in a few moments made an imitation of a pair of bellows, which, combining three colors, white, red and blue, brilliantly interwoven throughout, was exceedingly beautiful. 

The pots in the furnace of the flint house contain twenty-two hundred pounds of “metal,” which are worked up twice a week.  As the fire (which burns day and night) is all underneath, and the flames are not allowed to communicate directly with the glass, as is the case in the green house, the pots last about twice as long, or from six to eight months.

In the flint house is an annealing oven sixty-two feet long, in which pans are fixed on rollers, and the ware to be “nealed” is gradually removed from the heat of the fire immediately under the entrance or “door,” to the rear, where, at the expiration of the allotted time, it is taken out, ready to be packed and shipped. 

Thirty-four men and boys are at present employed in the flint house, which number is to be increased twelve in the course of a couple weeks.

Glass Cutting, The Mould Room, &C.

The cutting room is a kind of finishing department for the finer ware.  Here lamp-globes are “roughed” on the outside by placing them on a lathe and allowing them to revolve against a bundle of small wires dipped in wet sand.  The inside is “roughed” by filling the globe with sand and placing it in a revolving cylinder, lined with straw.  The most interesting work done in this department, however, is cutting designs upon vases, shades, &c., which is performed simply by holding with the hands the article to be cut against a very soft grindstone.  The visitor cannot help feeling astonishment at the proficiency shown by the workmen in this.  It is in this way that emblems, figures and other sketches we see on various articles of glassware are made, and it is this tedious and skillful work which accounts for the costliness of such.

The mould-room is the place where the different moulds for bottles, tumblers, pitchers, and in short for nearly everything that is manufactured from glass, are kept.  The moulds must present the highest degree of polish, and hence those of brass are best.  The reader will form some idea of the importance of this branch of the business when he is informed that less than $20,000 worth of moulds would hardly do to carry on anything but a very limited business.  It requires one man’s undivided time to keep the moulds in a perfect condition of cleanliness.

Near the mould-room is an apartment devoted to the making of flint glass vials, syringes, etc., from tubes prepared into lengths of six or eight feet.  The manufacture of syringes and kindred druggists’ ware is an important feature of the business of the Missouri Glass Company, a large quantity being exported even to Pittsburgh, which place, notwithstanding its reputation in the matter of glass, cannot begin to compete with St. Louis in this particular. 

Concluding Remarks.

We have already used up so much space that we cannot dilate upon other branches of the business of the Company.  The whole number of men employed at present is one hundred and five, which will be considerably augmented in a few weeks. 

The reader who has had the patience to follow us from the beginning of this article, will have probably concluded that the manufacture of glass in this city is likely to become of great commercial importance.  We certainly think it will, for it is already assuming proportions which, a few years ago, would have been deemed almost preposterous to think of.  Any department of trade that promises to be of benefit to the place where it is carried on should be, and is generally apt to be, encouraged. 

No comments: