The Roaring Twenties

by Mark A. Nye
Issue No. 253 - May 1994

It was ninety-two years ago this month that the first piece of glass for commercial purposes was made at the Cambridge Glass Co. factory. In observation of this anniversary, we are reprinting part of an article that first appeared in the December 27, 1926, issue of China, Glass & Lamps. This portion of the article deals with the factory and its production methods as they were in the 1920s, tying in with this year's Convention theme, The Roaring Twenties, NCC members attending the 1994 Convention will have an opportunity to see the glass manufacturing process by participating in one or more of the glass factory tours that are being planned.


Perhaps we can understand this change better by a trip through the factory as it is today. From the three furnaces come a great variety of wares. There are thousands of moulds for both pressed and blown wares. Colored glassware as well as crystal is being fabricated in the large and airy furnace room. Here, a "shop" or unit is making tumblers in crackled effect in Peach-Blo glass. This is a pink shade--Cambridge was one of the pioneers in the pink shades--but it is but a reddish mass as the gatherer swings his iron blowpipe in delivering the glass from the pot within the furnace to the blower. A brief, strong puff on the "pipe" (as it is technically called) and the piece is formed. While it is still hot it is thrust into a tub of water and the outer surface of the glass is broken in design known as crackled. Thence a boy carries it to another worker where the piece is reheated and the edges finished before it is taken to one of the eight new annealing lehrs.

Early in 1926, The Cambridge Glass Co. decided to replace its 14 old lehrs with those of the modern, continuous type. One lehr was installed. Its operation appeared to warrant further installations and the Simplex Engineering Co., of Washington, Pa., added seven more to the one it erected first. The factory did not shut down while the new lehrs were being erected and the old ones removed. Operations were continued. There were handicaps, it is true, but co-operation of the workers and the lehr builders was successful. Today, therefore, the glassware from Cambridge is annealed or tempered in the best type of lehr which The Cambridge Glass Co. was able to procure.

Annealing or tempering is an important factor. Unless glass is annealed, it will shatter at the first heavy touch. Its beauty and usefulness is dependent in part upon the perfection or imperfection of annealing which consists first in raising the temperature of the glass to close to the melting point and then cooling it slowly and steadily.

From the lehrs the glassware first comes under inspection. Those which pass the stringent tests and the careful eyes of experienced women and girls are wrapped. If there is no further work to be done, the ware goes to the packing department and into barrels and thence to the shipping department.

Most of the glassware for table, home and decorative use from the Cambridge factory, however, must go through a finishing process. The bottoms of plates and bowls and other flat pieces must be ground and polished, the sharp edges of stemware and other articles must be treated and finished properly. Before and after each process there must be an inspection by workers trained to catch flaws.

If the ware is to be decorated, there are more processes to go through. Ware for the decorating department, such as a large console bowl, is selected carefully from stock. If the decoration is a gold encrustation, as is much of the decorated ware from the Cambridge factory, it first must have the design printed on it. The design literally is printed on the glass by means of transfer paper on which the design first was printed in ink. (Ed. Note: Actually it is a wax and ink mixture.) The paper is washed off after the ink (ink/wax mixture) is rubbed in thoroughly by hand.


Then comes a tedious process in which skilled girls cover all the bowl but that part on which the encrustation is to be placed with a layer of wax. The wax is applied with a brush after which it hardens. The wax-covered bowl then goes to the acid room where the piece is immersed in an acid bath. The acid eats the printed design into the glass. In the Cambridge plant the acid-bathing facilities are ample so that there is no skimping and ample time is given for the action of the acid.

From the acid bath the bowl goes to a washing section where live steam removes the wax and the piece is cleaned thoroughly. The design now is etched in the glass. If the piece is to go out in etched design only, it is finished, but as it is to be encrusted with gold it goes to the decorating room proper. Here agile artisans cover the etched design with gold and add any other touches such as gold band or lines.

Next comes the burning in of the decoration. This is done by placing the ware in a decorating lehr. During its progress through the 90-foot tunnel the temperature advances rapidly until it reaches the stage at which the gold is amalgamated with the glass. Then it cools off slowly. This is a careful process and is in charge of a skilled workman.

From the decorating lehr, the bowl goes through another inspection and then it goes to get a final cleaning and inspection. First white sand is brushed on it, a bath in alcohol follows and then it is washed in steaming hot water. After a final polishing by hand, the bowl goes to the wrappers.

Each piece of ware from the Cambridge plant is placed in a wrapper which is marked with a stamp giving the color and size and decoration.

Stemware, including goblets, blown tumblers, sherbets, parfaits and comportes, is handled by that section known as the "Byesville" department because these workers were transferred from Byesville when the plant there was closed.


Cambridge's gold encrusted ware is guaranteed. The gold will not come off and it is 22 karat in quality. Try to rub it off with sand as they do at the factory!

From the furnace room through the factory to the "taking out" end of the decorating lehr in the decorating department is a straight line of about a quarter of a mile. The ware moves steadily through the various processes from one section to another.

The Cambridge plant actually has three floors. Most of the handling is done on the main floor. The ground floor is for storage, grinding and polishing, barrel making and other accessory departments. The floor above the main floor includes storage, cutting, packing of decorated ware and the chemical glassware division.

Cambridge long has been a producer of chemical glassware, not only for the general trade but also for special requirements. The accurate marking of chemical ware such as measuring units and beakers is a fascinating work in itself. After the chemical ware comes from the annealing lehrs, it moves to the special finishing department.

However, all ware, no matter whether it be in plain colors or crystal or decorated or chemical ware, goes to one central place for packing. This packing department is a busy place. As each barrel or package is filled, the packer places his name on it along with a description of the contents. Each barrel is marked with a number and a complete record of the barrel and number is kept once it enters the temporary storage which opens onto the loading platform.

In an office above the packing room but virtually overseeing it, the records of the plant are kept. This is the "order room." Into it comes the orders from the general office and this room has the responsibility and duty of seeing that the order is filled promptly and properly. The records keep watch on the movement of the ware from the time it leaves the annealing lehr until it is packed in the (railroad) car or goes out as l. c. l. (less than car load) shipment.

An important factor in maintaining the quality of ware is the care and repair of moulds. It is the moulds which shape the ware and the Cambridge plant has a very extensive array of moulds of every kind for both hand-blown and hand-pressed ware. Nothing is made automatically. After a mould has been used for a "turn" or a day it must be cleaned and inspected. This work is done by trained women, who carefully wipe and clean the mould, making it ready for its next tour of duty.

A glass factory such as this at Cambridge is more than a mere fabricator of a glass article from the raw material. There must be expert mechanics and mould makers; there are expert cutters, engravers, etchers and decorators; there are trained barrel makers and box builders. Electricity is used to operate much machinery and there must be steam for some processes and for heating. Also compressed air is needed for cooling and other operations.

The steam and electric power is produced in the power house adjoining the factory. Here the company installed last month a new generator so that the supply of electric current might be more than ample for any possible needs.

The Cambridge factory operates its factory department at night as well as in day time or else it could not produce the large amount of many kinds of ware which it does. The finishing and decorating sections, of course, as well as the special shops, work only in the day time.

Where does the glass come from? It comes from the melting pot in a furnace and into the pot has been placed a proper "batch" of raw materials. The batch varies according to the character or color of glass desired. It is mixed by hand and the finest grade of silica sand is a major factor in weight and volume. Certain chemicals are added and then there is a certain amount of old glass, resulting from breakage and other residue.

In the batch-mixing room were two piles ready for the melting pots. To the eye of the visitor there did not appear to be much difference in the appearance or color of the two piles but one was for emerald glass and the other was for Peach-Blo. But before they entered the fiery furnace, the appearance was strikingly similar . . .

It will be seen readily that it is no wonder a force of 750 workers is required. This force has grown from 200 on that May morning nearly 25 years ago ..."