Cambridge History from News Articles

by Charles A. Upton
Issue No. 193 - May 1989

CAMBRIDGE GOLDEN JUBILEE ... continued from the March 1989 Crystal Ball

A man of vision and courage, Mr. Bennett continued operations of the plant as head of an operating company. Conditions continued adverse, the financial troubles of the National Glass Company became scrambled and the factory's future was anything but bright.

After a long period of uncertainty, dickering and court proceedings involving the receivers and bondholders of the National Glass Company, Mr. Bennett purchased the factory here with all the machinery and personal property. The Cambridge Glass Company was born.

It was a tremendous burden for one individual to assume, the total amount represented being well over $400,000. A total of $50,000 was paid in cash and the balance was carried about 50 percent in notes and mortgage bonds, maturing over a period of 10 to 15 years. It was an individual transaction on the part of Mr. Bennett and was accepted by the bankers who had utmost confidence in him without any outside endorsements.

Mr. Bennett had a well-defined idea of how this business should be conducted. These policies and principles might not meet with approval of outside stockholders and capitalists, so he preferred to take the risk personally. His judgement was sound and all obligations were paid off ahead of the time limit.

With these burdens removed, then came the opportunity for a complete re-arrangement of the capital structure and the putting into effect the plans for perpetuation of the business.

Each one of the men represented on the executive board was made stockholders. They were not allowed to buy stock, but were allotted stock, and have received the dividends from their holdings for years. Also, this gave the opportunity to arrange salaries in accordance with the value of the individual. Had there been outside stockholders, this could not have been accomplished without friction.

In addition, in the early twenties, the company took out a group insurance coverage on each of its employees, one of the first industries in the country to introduce such a policy of employee protection.

With World War I raging, the supply of coal for the factory was threatened. Then, the glass manufacturer turned coal miner and bought a mine. From 1918 to November 1926, the Cambridge Glass Company obtained its fuel from its own mine.

A few years later the company turned to gas production again, drilling in its own wells during the Niagara Sand gas boom here. Its first well drilled in produced 25,000,000 cubic feet of gas per day.

The second furnace at the factory was put into operation early in 1903, and the following year the third furnace was added. On January 8, 1949 a fourth furnace was completed.

Changes have been made in physical equipment from time to time, always with the idea of providing an improved product.

Perhaps the most far-reaching decision made by Mr. Bennett was at the close of World War I. After years of adversity and many vicissitudes had been conquered, came the time to decide on the course for the future.

Automatic production of the cheaper grades of glassware was becoming a major factor in the trade and factories were deciding what policies to pursue. It was suggested that it would be possible to build another factory to be used for the manufacture of the better grade wares while the original plant would be turned into one using continuous tanks for melting and automatic machinery for fabricating. Plans for the second factory were drawn (by this time the factory at Byesville had been closed and the workers moved to Cambridge) and the blueprints gone over with thorough consideration.

There was courage and conviction in the decision of Mr. Bennett, which came without hesitancy. He called in his "boys," those who had been closely associated with him through the years trial and tribulation, pointed to the waste basket where the torn blueprints had been thrown and told them there would not be a new factory and that the Cambridge Glass Company was going to improve and continue to improve its product.

This was the hour in which it was decided it was better to lose $400,000 worth of business in cheaper products and turn altogether to quality ware. It became the task of the Cambridge workers to produce not volume but quality. The whole working philosophy of the Cambridge Glass Co. might well be summed up in this quotation from a letter, which Mr. Bennett wrote to the trade in 1930:

"If there is one thing we prize more highly than all others, it is the confidence our patrons have in Cambridge quality. Cheap goods mean not only goods of inferior quality and worth, but low wages of a cheap and inferior standard of living for the people who make the goods. It cannot be otherwise. We feel that we would not be keeping faith with our friends and patrons if we lowered our standard in the slightest degree."

Again the die had been cast, and Mr. Bennett had made a momentous decision dealing with the life and value of the company to the community.

The ensuing years have been spent in keeping up this quality and in anticipating and putting into manufacture "glass of tomorrow." The line has grown until today it is believed to be the largest glassware line in the world, consisting of a complete line of handmade blown and pressed glassware and including stemware, table ware, vases, dinner ware, novelties and specialties; candelabra and epergnes. Colored and crystal, cut, etched, gold encrusted and engraved as well as private mould work.

The Cambridge Glass Co. feels that of all the arts of man, there is none so fascinating to watch and wonder at as that of making fine glassware. Picture, if you can, a man dipping the end of a long, hollow rod into a seething pot of taffy-like substance and, with a few puffs of his breath, a few deft turns of the hand, shaping it into a scintillating piece of glassware, or a cutter, with only his hands and a cutting wheel, creating a beautiful design that catches every gleam of sunlight or candlelight.

What inspiration was it that led man to perform this first "miracle" of fusing sand and alkali, with intense heat, to produce glass? When and how did he learn that, by adding certain chemicals, seemingly illogical in their choice, he could create artificially the rich luscious red of the ruby, the warm brown of the topaz, the flaming blue of the sapphire, the deep green of the emerald?

It was during the middle ages that Venice became one of the art centers of the world and held a virtual monopoly on the making of glass that glass workers became the aristocrats of artisans. They banded together in a powerful guild and received privileges granted few other craftsmen. So zealously were the secrets of glassmaking guarded that it was a long, long time before other parts of the world succeeded in gaining them and the manufacture of glassware spread.

To those in the industry today, all this seems strange. Long association with the trade has dulled to them the "miracle" of glass. Yet, almost a "miracle" it remains, that silica acid, in the form of silica sand, when combined, under the influence of tremendous heat, with an alkali such as lime, potash, soda ash and lead oxide, should cool to the crystal-clear substance, glass.

To be continued next month ...