Cambridge History from News Articles - Golden Jubilee

by Charles A. Upton
Issue No. 195 - July 1989

(From the August 9, 1951 issue of the Daily Jeffersonian)

Editor's Note: This article is being continued from the March and May 1989 issues of the Cambridge Crystal Ball.

So far does it go back into antiquity, no one knows when the first glass was made. Tombs of the Egyptian kings of the fourth and fifth dynasties (4000 BC) show pictures of glassblowers at work. In these same tombs were found the oldest known objects of glass, small glass beads.

Historically, the first glass may have been made by the Egyptians. Knowing how to glaze pottery, they may have applied this knowledge to the making of glass, as the two processes are quite similar. Excavations of the tombs of their kings have uncovered small vases, bracelets, imitation precious stones, and even little bottles. However, their glass was not the smooth and transparent glass that is known today.

The whole mixture of silica sand, cullet, potash, lead or lime, etc., ready for charging into the pot or tank, is called the "batch." Diligent care is given in its preparation and in the making of Cambridge glass; this exactness begins with the setting up of the original specifications for a given kind of glass. It continues in the chemical laboratories where all incoming materials are tested and analyzed. It follows through to the mixing room where giant weighing machines measure out in quantities as small as a single ounce for a batch weighing 2,000 pounds. The result is that a given grade of Cambridge glass is always the same – today, tomorrow, five years hence.

These materials, having been most carefully proportioned, are placed in a steel car which remains in the mixing room until ready to be charged into the pot, when it is wheeled over to the furnace.

If this exactness is necessary in mixing the basic materials, it is even more necessary when measuring the mineral salts and oxides which give color to Cambridge colored crystal. Just a pinch of some salts and oxides, or instance, will color an entire batch.

The chemistry of color is one of the most fascinating aspects of the making of glassware. The choice of coloring materials is seemingly so illogical, so contrary to what you would expect in the result each achieves.

For instance, cadmium sulfide, a silvery white, metallic element, produces yellow or canary glass. Selenium, a lead gray crystal which is an element of copper ore, produces beautiful amber or a brilliant red, depending upon the quantity used. Black oxide of copper, black as its name implies, imparts a rich blue-green. And so it goes, practically every mineral salt or oxide used in coloring glass produces a color totally different from its own.

Human ingenuity has developed machines for many purposes, but it has yet to design one that will make satisfactorily the delicate blown glass that so many people want on their dining room table. That still is the work of the skilled hands of the artisan.

Take for instance, the goblet. By the time the last of the batch has been tossed into the pot, the mixture is beginning to melt taking on the consistency of putty. The heat rises, higher and higher until it finally reaches as much as 2700 degrees Fahrenheit. The batch is boiling. It flows like thick molasses. Huge glass bubbles are rising rapidly. As time goes on, they dwindle in size until, about 24 hours later, tests show that the glass is ready. After cooling for a couple of hours to bring it to proper consistency, it is ready for the blowers.

The operation of blowing glass begins with the "gatherer" who dips a long, hollow rod into the pot. Because this tube is cool, a small quantity of glass clings to it. His next step is to shape this blob of glass by rolling it on a steel table, called a marver, and to start a bubble.

Quickly it is passed to the blower who works on a raised platform for greater convenience in handling the four-foot rod. He blows the bubble a little larger and then drops it into the optic mold, which puts the little ribs or creases in the hot glass.

The whole bubble is then put into a paste mold which forms the shape of the goblet, and the blower exerts as much pressure with his breath as is possible.

While he blows, he rotates the glass in the mold. This causes the optic lines which are at first on the outside of the glass to be virtually rubbed right through the glass so that when this bubble or bottle is taken out of the mold, these lines will be on the inside. The workman is very careful to rotate the bottle as much in one direction as in the other so that the optic lines are kept straight up and down and so that a seam will not show in the article where the mold joins. Turning the glass all in one direction produces a swirl optic.

The hot, bottle shaped bubble is then passed over to the operator of a machine that puts on the stem, which has been pressed into shape while the bowl was being blown.

The goblet must then be reheated in a small blast furnace which quickly brings it up to a white-hot temperature just short of the melting point.

Meanwhile another operator has been gathering a small lump of molten glass from the pot. By the time the footless goblet has been sufficiently reheated, he is ready. He drops this small blob of hot glass onto the bottom of the stem and the finisher completes the shaping of the goblet, one of the most interesting steps in the entire process of making a goblet.

He lays the long hollow tube to which the goblet is attached over the two extended arms of his bench and with the palm of his hand and forearm, rapidly revolves it, while with his other hand and a cherry or apple wood finisher he forms the attached blob of glass into a foot.

The top of the goblet, still rounded like a bubble, remains sticking to the blowpipe, but a light touch of a cold iron removes it and the operator places it in a special fork with which it is carried to the annealing lehr where internal strains are removed.

A piece of Cambridge crystal glass is a beautiful thing just as it comes from the lehr. However, there are many pieces which are made more beautiful through etching, cutting or decorating with gold, silver or platinum.

Three types of etching are used, needle, pantograph and deep plate. All etched Cambridge glass is finished with the "deep plate" by far the most complicated and expensive method, resulting in exquisite designs and shading impossible by any other process. But the results justify the additional cost should you examine a piece of Cambridge Rose Point, Elaine, Candlelight or Wildflower.

The cutting and decorating of glassware enhance its beauty, applying colors or designs by means of precious metals, enamels and paints, and then making them permanent with the aid of heat.

All of these processes take the skill of men and women long trained in the art of making high quality glassware. It is an art of the human hands that cannot be duplicated by machine. And there is no mass production of the machine. Neither is there replacement of labor by machines. There is no substitute for quality. These things were weighed in their entirety by Mr. Bennett in reaching his decision to maintain the high quality of Cambridge glassware. He was unswerving.

Today, there are more than 5000 separate items in the Cambridge line. Its quality is known from one end of the world to the other. And Europe, at one time the great exporter of glassware to the United States, now imports no small amount of Cambridge glass where quality is desired.

The etching department is one of the best equipped in the country. The large cutting department produces a product that well rivals that of the famed English glass-cutters. Gold, silver and enamel decoration are handled in a special daylight department, especially designed for this purpose.

Mr. Bennett had, down through the years, many valiant helpers in building the business of the Cambridge Glass Co. He recognized their value and cherished their association.

A milestone in the history of the Cambridge Glass Co. was reached on May 27, 1939 when Mr. Bennett announced the sale of controlling interest in the company to W.L. Orme, vice president of the company and his son-in-law through marriage to Miss Marjorie Bennett. His statement follows:

"I have sold a controlling interest in the Cambridge Glass Company to my son-in-law, Mr. W.L. Orme. He now is and has been general manager as well as vice president. I retain my general interest and will continue to act as president and general business advisor to the company, giving the benefit of my long experience to the management. My sole object in this sale is to perpetuate the business which has developed under my personal attention for 37 years. There will be no changes in the present officials, heads of departments or general employees. Our policies are well defined and come as a result of careful cooperation from all now connected with the business."

Mr. Orme became associated with the Cambridge Glass Co. in 1915 at the Byesville factory where he became the manager before the plant was moved to Cambridge. When the two plants were consolidated, Mr. Orme was made vice president and held that title until Mr. Bennett's death on February 19, 1940, at which time he became president.

The death of Mr. Bennett removed from Cambridge's industrial structure a colorful figure, truly a man of courage and wisdom.

Under Mr. Orme's able leadership the fourth furnace was built, which adds 14 pots to the melting capacity of the factory. Also, six continuous lehrs completely automatic gas fires were installed, and in line with the company policy of looking toward the future, he installed in 1941 a diesel engine in the power house, something new in the glass business.

Another step forward taken by Mr. Orme was opening the plant to visitors. The company encouraged people to visit the plant and actually see how quality glassware is made. Success of the step is shown by the fact that about 10,000 persons annually inspect the plant and observe for themselves the products of Cambridge Glass Co. and how they are produced.

In 1940 Mr. Orme's oldest son, Arthur Bennett Orme, became associated with the company and in 1948 another son, Wilbur L. Orme, Jr., returned to the plant from the service of his country. On January 1, 1949 Mr. Orme announced that his two sons had been elected to the company's Board of Directors and that Arthur B. Orme had been named vice president of the company. Another son, William C. Orme II, who is completing this year a five-year course in ceramic engineering, and he, too, will be associated with the company.

The Cambridge Glass Company is prepared to maintain high production of quality glassware in the face of stiff competition, expected recessions and the new buyer's market.

"There is nothing unusual about the optimum of the Cambridge Glass Co.," Mr. Orme said. "It stems from the plant's experience in facing other difficulties at times during the company's half century of operations and the conviction that the manhunt for top quality product will continue to grow."

Cambridge Glass Company is celebrating its golden jubilee anniversary. It has behind it a half century of progress. it has about 700 employees and an annual payroll of over $2,000,000, including sales staff.

Such a record of achievements deserves the plaudits of the community, which joins in wishing the company every success and prosperity that it is so richly entitled to.