Cambridge Glass with Silver Decoration

by Bud Walker
Issue No. 338 - June 2001

On Friday, November 11, 1988, while taking my friend Wib Orme (who was A.J. Bennett's grandson) to the hospital for treatment, I asked Wib about glassmaking at the Cambridge factory. Wib told me that all of their glass was made in pots. Most pot furnaces held tram five to eight pots that were set on a ledge with the heat underneath.

Wib told me that the pots they used were 20 to 22 inches tall. They were cylindrical with straight sides pulled in at the top. The opening at the top was 14 inches. When a pot was changed they would put in about 60 percent sand and chemicals and 40 percent cullet which would be the same color as the glass they were making. When the batch was made up, the lid would be put on and sealed with clay.

After the melt was completed, they would remove the lid and check the batch for stones or seeds. Wib explained that these were unmelted grains of sand. If they were found in the batch, they would take one-pound bags of arsenic, tie them to a pole, and stir them into the batch. This would aid in the melting of the so-called stones.

I asked Wib about one of the stories that John Braniff, president of our local glass club, was telling as a fact. The story was that when a pot cracked, they would run cold water on it and the molten glass would harden and seal the crack and they could continue using the pot. His reply was this is a lot of bull as the water would cause the pot to explode. Due to the high temperatures, pots would last about four to six months.

According to Wib, there was no way to tell when a pot was going to break, and when it did, the molten glass would run down into a sand bed at the bottom of the furnace. Also, Wib told me what an awful job it was to go down and clean up the molten glass and broken pot pieces. He felt it was one of the toughest and hottest jobs a glass worker would ever have to do.

I learned from Wib that a Stemware shop at the Cambridge plant usually consisted of 10 men. The gaffer was the boss and he could hire and fire any member in his shop and no one would question his decisions. Wib told me that a good shop in the plant could turn out 325 pieces in a turn ... 325 pieces in four hours works out to more than one piece of stemware per minute. He explained to me that a turn was four hours.

We also talked about the type of fuel used to melt the glass. Wib told me that while he was working there, gas was the primary fuel, but that they did have an interruptible clause in their gas rate. When the gas was turned off they would switch over to oil. This caused a lot of problems with the pulsing of the fuel oil pumps. To overcome this problem, the fuel oil tank was located high in the building. The oil would be pumped up into the tank and would feed the furnace, glory hole and lehrs by gravity. This eliminated the pulsing and allowed them to continue making the same quality glass as they did with gas.

Wib explained that the lehrs in the plant were about 80 feet long with a continuous chain belt. The belt was kept whitewashed so that it wouldn't leave marks on the ware. It would take two hours for a piece to make the trip from start to finish. By the time a piece finished its trip it was cooled to the point that it could be picked off the belt for further finishing. He said that there were thermocouples every foot in the lehr so that the temperature was constantly monitored.

I also learned that Ebon was one of the last new colors developed before the plant closed in 1954. Wib claimed that he was the only one who knew the formula for making this new type of glass and that the secret was going to go to the grave with him.

My friend is gone, but I will never forget him and his love of Cambridge Glass. It was through his love of the glass that I was exposed to the beautiful pieces of Cambridge Glass. This glass was made at the factory his grandfather had made into one of the first glass companies in the United Stales.

Author's Note: Taken from notes made in 1988.