Enterprise and Ingenuity Brighten Wartime Christmas
Before World War II, most of the glass ornaments that adorned American Christmas trees came from Germany. War in Europe stopped the importing of hand-blown ornaments; but the resourcefulness and ingenuity of a Christmas ornament importer, a chain store manager, and a glass manufacturing company made it possible for Americans to buy shiny glass ornaments to decorate their Christmas trees.
In the late 1930s, Max Eckardt of New York City, an importer of German ornaments, saw that the war would soon end his business. Eckardt, together with
Bill Thompson of F.W. Woolworth, convinced the Corning Glass Company to mass produce machine-blown Christmas tree balls. Woolworth's offered to place a large order for their chain of stores if Corning could successfully modify its glass ribbon machine, designed to make light bulbs by the thousands, to produce Christmas ornaments. Early in December of 1939, the first 235,000 Corning-blown and machine-lacquered ornaments were shipped to Woolworth's five-and-ten-cent stores.
The following year, the glass ribbon machine produced about 300,000 ornaments a day - quite a jump from the typical daily output of 600 for a German glassblower. Corning supplied plain glass ornaments to other companies for decoration. Large cartons of the clear glass balls were shipped to Max Eckardt's newly-built decorating plant in New Jersey, where they were silvered, lacquered, and
decorated by hand. Simple forms were the only ornaments available in 1940, but other shapes and sizes were soon introduced.
Wartime shortages eventually made it impossible to get either lacquer or silver for decorating, and cardboard caps replaced the metal ones. During this period, Eckardt, who now produced ornaments under the trade name Shiny Brite, decorated the clear glass balls with thin painted stripes in pastel colors. Following the war, Shiny Brite became the largest ornament company in the world, selling millions of round and imaginatively-shaped ornaments
decorated with stripes, holiday images, or greetings of the season.
Visitors to the Henry Ford Museum can see a glass ribbon machine once used in Corning's Wellsboro, Pennsylvania, factory, which produced most of America's machine-blown glass ornaments. Whether they are the simply trimmed World War II-era versions, or the gleaming and gaily colored ornaments of the post-war years, these decorations have been part of Christmas memories of many Americans for decades.