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Posts Tagged manufacturing

Claude Harvard faced many racial obstacles over the course of his young life, but when he addressed a crowd of students at Tuskegee University in 1935, he spoke with confidence and optimism:

“Speaking from my own experience, brief as it is, I feel certain that the man or woman who has put his very best into honest effort to gain an education will not find the doors to success barred.”

One of the few, if not the only, Black engineers employed by Henry Ford at the time, Claude had been personally sent to Tuskegee by Ford to showcase an invention of his own creation. Even in the face of societal discrimination, the message of empowerment and perseverance that Claude imparted on that day was one that he carried with him over the course of his own career. For him, there was always a path forward.

Four men in suits wearing headphones sit at a table with equipment on the table and along the wall behind them
Claude Harvard practicing radio communication with other students at Henry Ford Trade School in 1930. / THF272856

Born in 1911, Claude spent the first ten years of his life in Dublin, Georgia, until his family, like other Black families of the time period, made the decision to move north to Detroit in order to escape the poor economic opportunities and harsh Jim Crow laws of the South. From a young age, Claude was intrigued by science and developed a keen interest in a radical new technology—wireless radio. To further this interest, he sold products door-to-door just so he could acquire his own crystal radio set to play around with. It would be Claude’s passion for radio that led him to grander opportunities.

At school in Detroit, Harvard demonstrated an aptitude for the STEM fields and was eventually referred to the Henry Ford Trade School, a place usually reserved for orphaned teen-aged boys to be trained in a variety of skilled, industrial trade work. His enrollment at Henry Ford Trade School depended on his ability to resist the racial taunting of classmates and stay out of fights. Once there, his hands-on classes consisted of machining, metallurgy, drafting, and engine design, among others. In addition to the manual training received, academic classes were also required, and students could participate in clubs.

Young men sit around a long table looking at a man standing at one end
Claude Harvard with other Radio Club members and their teacher at Henry Ford Trade School in 1930. / THF272854

As president of the Radio Club, Claude Harvard became acquainted with Henry Ford, who shared an interest in radio—as early as 1919, radio was playing a pivotal role in Ford Motor Company’s communications. Although he graduated at the top of his class in 1932, Claude was not given a journeyman’s card like the rest of his classmates. A journeyman’s card would have allowed Claude to be actively employed as a tradesperson. Despite this obstacle, Henry Ford recognized Claude’s talent and he was hired at the trade school. By the 1920s, Ford Motor Company had become the largest employer of African American workers in the country. Although Ford employed large numbers of African Americans, there were limits to how far most could advance. Many African American workers spent their time in lower paying, dirty, dangerous, and unhealthy jobs.

The year 1932 also saw Henry Ford and Ford Motor Company once again revolutionize the auto industry with the introduction of a low-priced V-8 engine. By casting the crankcase and cylinder banks as a single unit, Ford cut manufacturing costs and could offer its V-8 in a car starting under $500, a steal at the time. The affordability of the V-8 meant many customers for Ford, and with that came inevitable complaints—like a noisy rattling that emanated from the engine. To remedy this problem, which was caused by irregular-shaped piston pins, Henry Ford turned to Claude Harvard.

Engine sitting on a stand
1932 Ford V-8 Engine, No. 1 / THF101039

To solve the issue, Harvard invented a machine that checked the shape of piston pins and sorted them by size with the use of radio waves. More specifically, the machine checked the depth of the cut on each pin, its length, and its surface smoothness. It then sorted the V-8 pins by size at a rate of three per second.  Ford implemented the machine on the factory floor and touted it as an example of the company’s commitment to scientific accuracy and uniform quality. Along with featuring Claude’s invention in print and audio-visual ads, Ford also sent Harvard to the 1934 World’s Fair in Chicago and to the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama to showcase the machine.

Machine on display under a sign with text, with images along wall behind
Piston Pin Inspection Machine at the 1934 World’s Fair in Chicago, Illinois. / THF212795

During his time at Tuskegee, Harvard befriended famed agricultural scientist George Washington Carver, who he eventually introduced to Henry Ford. In 1937, when George Washington Carver visited Henry Ford in Dearborn, he insisted that Claude be there. While Carver and Ford would remain friends the rest of their lives, Claude Harvard left Ford Motor Company in 1938 over a disagreement about divorcing his wife and his pay. Despite Ford patenting over 20 of Harvard’s ideas, Claude’s career would be forced in a new direction and over time, the invention of the piston pin sorting machine would simply be attributed to the Henry Ford Trade School.

Despite these many obstacles, Claude’s work lived on in the students that he taught later in his life, the contributions he made to manufacturing, and a 1990 oral history, where he stood by his sentiments that if one put in a honest effort into learning, there would always be a way forward.


Ryan Jelso is Associate Curator, Digital Content, at The Henry Ford.

#THFCuratorChat, technology, radio, manufacturing, making, Ford workers, Ford Motor Company, engines, engineering, education, by Ryan Jelso, African American history

Machine with multiple rollers arranged in an arch shape with a conveyor belt filled with wool leading up to it

THF91531 (photographed by John Sobczak)

Carding mills became extremely popular in 19th-century America because the machines used in them mechanized the laborious hand process of straightening and combing wool fibers—an important step in preparing yarn and making woolen cloth. Customers were happy to let others handle this incredibly tedious job while using their own skill and creativity to control the final product.

Two wooden paddles
Before carding mills, farm families prepared wool by hand using hand cards like these. / THF183701

Between 1840 and 1880, Michigan farmers raised millions of sheep, whose wool was turned into yarn and woolen goods. The Civil War, especially, caused a demand for wool, as it became the raw material for soldiers’ uniforms. Afterward, while the highest quality woolen broadcloth for men’s clothing was still imported from England, a growing number of wool mills (mostly small and local, but some larger ones, especially in New England) produced lower-end woolen goods like flannel (for work shirts, summer coats, and overcoat linings), men’s and children’s underwear, blankets, and rugs.

Sheep graze on a grass lawn with a white house surrounded by a white picket fence in the background
Sheep graze outside of Henry Ford’s boyhood home in Greenfield Village / THF1937

Farmers who raised large flocks of sheep might sell their raw wool to local merchants or to dealers who shipped it directly to a small wool mill in the local area or a large wool mill in New England. But most farm families raised a modest flock of sheep and spun their own wool into yarn, which they used at home for knitted goods. They might also take their spun yarn or items they knitted to their local general store for credit to purchase other products they needed in the store.

While sawmills and gristmills were the first types of mills established in newly-formed communities, carding mills rapidly became popular—particularly in rural areas where sheep were raised. While the tradition of wool spinning at home continued well into the 19th century, machine carding took the tedious process of hand carding out of the home. Learn more about the mechanization of carding in this blog post.

Etching of machine with multiple rollers arranged in an arch shape; also contains text
Faster and more efficient carding machines replaced traditional carding methods in the 19th century. / THF621302

At the carding mill, raw wool from sheep was transformed into straightened rolls of wool, called rovings—the first step to finished cloth. Faster and more efficient carding machines at these mills replaced the hand cards traditionally used at home (by women and children) for this process. Through the end of the 19th century, carding mills provided this carding service for farm families, meeting the needs of home spinners.

Conveyor belt with wool on it, headed for a machine with a series of large rollers
“Picked” wool that has been loosened and cleaned, ready to be fed into a carding machine / THF91532 (photographed by John Sobczak)

Young Henry Ford was a member one of these farm families. Henry fondly remembered accompanying his father on trips to John Gunsolly’s carding mill (now in Greenfield Village) from their farm in Springwells Township (now part of Dearborn, Michigan)—traveling about 20 miles and waiting to have the sheared wool from his father’s sheep run through the carding machine. There it would be combed, straightened, and shaped into loose fluffy rovings, ready for spinning. The Ford family raised a modest number of sheep (according to the 1880 Agricultural Census, the family raised 13 sheep that year), so they likely brought the rovings back to spin at home, probably for knitting.


Donna Braden is Senior Curator and Curator of Public Life at The Henry Ford.

Greenfield Village buildings, Greenfield Village, making, Henry Ford, home life, agriculture, manufacturing, by Donna R. Braden

Etching of machine with multiple rollers arranged in an arch shape; also contains text
THF621302


Few pieces of textile technology had as great an impact for as long a time as the wool carding machine. The wool industry was much slower to mechanize than the cotton textile industry, for several reasons: the longer time it took to perfect wool processing machines; the fact that the machines were not engineered to work together for efficient production; and the conviction by potential entrepreneurs that it was impossible to compete with fine British imports and, as a result, wool processing did not offer the same potential for profit as cotton textiles. The slow mechanization of the wool industry both reinforced and encouraged the already strong tradition of home production of wool through the 19th century.

Pair of wooden paddles
Before carding machines, farm families prepared wool for spinning using hand cards like these. / THF183701

Despite—and partially because of—the slow mechanization of the wool industry, carding machines thrived. The first machines to be perfected in the wool production process, carding machines accomplished the one step that was most significant—and most tedious—in preparing wool before spinning. Mechanized carding machines not only sped up the time and removed the tedium of hand-carding, but they also produced a better combed roll of wool for spinning—improving both spinning time and the ultimate quality of the spun yarn.

The carding machine, introduced in America during the 1790s, was based upon technology and know-how brought by immigrant British machinists. It was adopted quickly in America. By 1810, there were 1,776 new carding machines in the US, duplicating the action of hand cards.

Image of house or factory with text underneath
Manufacturers of carding equipment emerged to supply the growing wool industry in the 19th century. / Detail, THF621405

In the typical carding mill, sheared wool was first sent through a picker to remove dirt and separate hard bunches of wool. The teeth on the rotating cylinder of the mechanical picker replaced the previous similar hand process of opening the wool fibers, cleaning out the dirt, burrs, and other impurities, then fluffing the wool.

Two men kneel on a cloth on a grassy lawn holding a sheet of sheeps' wool, with another pile of wool nearby
When first shorn, sheep’s wool is matted, waxy, and dirty. / THF119199

Fluffy white wool rests on a conveyor belt heading toward a machine with multiple rollers
After picking, wool is fed into the carding machine. / THF91532 (Photographed by John Sobczak)

Like the picker, the carding machine also transferred an earlier hand process into a more efficient rotary operation. Using several toothed leather strips (called card clothing) fixed on a series of revolving cylinders, it opened and blended the wool into a series of uniform sheets of fiber, shaping these sheets of fiber into loose, fluffy rolls called rovings. The cylinders were arranged so the ends of the teeth were nearly in contact, allowing for the continuous shaping of each roving, ready for spinning. Each roving, produced across the width of the carding machine, had a common length of 24 inches—ideal for hand spinning. It was longer, narrower, and ultimately sturdier, than those formed with hand cards.

Wooden spinning wheel with a large wheel and flat bench-like area
Carding machines produced loose rolls of wool fiber, called rovings, ready to be spun into yarn on wool wheels like this one. / THF175844

Because carding machines mechanized the laborious hand process of straightening and combing wool fibers—an important step in preparing yarn and making woolen cloth—carding mills (like John Gunsolly’s 1850s mill, now in Greenfield Village), became extremely popular in 19th-century America. To learn more about how families embraced mechanized carding, watch for another upcoming blog post.


Donna Braden is Senior Curator and Curator of Public Life at The Henry Ford.

by Donna R. Braden, manufacturing

In 2017, The Henry Ford acquired a significant collection of materials from the American Textile History Museum (ATHM) when financial challenges forced that organization to close its doors. Founded in 1960, ATHM was located in Lowell, Massachusetts, a city key to the story of the Industrial Revolution and to the American textile industry. For decades, ATHM gathered and interpreted a superb collection of textile machinery and tools, clothing and textiles, and an extensive collection of archival materials. The Henry Ford was among the many museums, libraries, and other organizations to which ATHM's collections were transferred. 

The Henry Ford acquired textile machinery, clothing, and textiles, as well as archival material that includes approximately 3,000 cubic feet of printed materials and fabric samples from various textile manufacturers, dating from the early 1800s into the mid-to-late 1900s. As part of the William Davidson Foundation Initiative for Entrepreneurship, The Henry Ford has digitized many sample books, as well as product literature, from the archival material within the ATHM collection.

So, what is a sample book? Textile manufacturing companies – commonly referred to as mills or print works – kept a record of fabrics produced by the company within a given year or season. These records typically consist of a fabric sample attached to a blank page in a bound book, and are often accompanied by information including pattern name, inventory number, dyestuffs, and in a few cases, the retail company for which the fabric was made.

The pages of these books offer a rich look at the broad range of fabrics produced by an increasingly mechanized textile industry, allowing researchers to see the evolution in textile design, materials, and manufacturing techniques. They also allow a glimpse into the various methods of recordkeeping among the many companies represented in the collection. Finally, the books—and the fabric samples within them—provide us with a broad view into the rich color palate of American textiles of the 1800s and 1900s. This is especially helpful for exploring clothing and textiles in the era before widespread color photography, where our understanding of the period is dulled by black-and-white depictions. The sample books are strikingly beautiful, offering an intriguing glimpse of the evolution of styles and patterns over time.

In addition to the sample books, we had the opportunity to digitize several examples of product literature from the 1900s, including catalogs and brochures. The product literature was used for marketing and sales, rather than as a record of production. These materials offer insight into the fabric and designs available for clothing or domestic use during the 1900s.

Have I piqued your interest? Below are a few favorite items I’ve come across in this collection.

Sample Books

 

Cocheco Manufacturing Company (Dover, New Hampshire & Lawrence, Massachusetts)


GIF cycling through three sheets containing rectangular fabric samples in a variety of colors and patterns in rows; also contains handwritten numbers and text
Fabric Samples from the Notebook of Washington Anderton, Color Mixer for Cocheco Print Works, 1876-1877 / THF670738, THF670787,
THF670757


GIF cycling through three sheets containing rectangular fabric samples in a variety of colors and patterns in rows; also contains handwritten numbers and text
Fabric Samples from the Notebook of Washington Anderton, Color Mixer for Cocheco Print Works, November to December 1877 / THF670668, THF670707, THF670697

Sheet containing two rows of rectangular fabric samples in a variety of colors and patterns; also contains handwritten numbers and text
Sample Book, January 9, 1880 to April 22, 1880 / THF600226


Hamilton Manufacturing Company (Lowell, Massachusetts)


GIF cycling through three sheets containing one large rectangular fabric sample per page; colors and patterns vary
Sample Book, April 9, 1900 to May 27, 1901 / THF600027, THF600141,
THF600167

Lancaster Mills (Clinton, Massachusetts)


GIF cycling through two sheets each containing four rectangular fabric samples in stripes and plaids; also contains typed or printed numbers
Sample Book, "36 Inch Klinton Fancies," Fall 1927 / THF299907, THF299924

GIF cycling through two sheets each containing four rectangular fabric samples in plaids and geometric patterns; also contains typed or printed numbers
Sample Book, "Glenkirk," Spring 1928 / THF299970, THF299971


Product Literature

 

Hellwig Silk Dyeing Company (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)


¬Rows of fiber or thread samples in a variety of colors accompanied by text
Sample Book, "Indanthrene Colors," 1900-1920 /
THF299990

 

Montgomery Ward & Co. (Chicago, Illinois)


Page with illustration of two men in suits and hats, accompanied by rectangular fabric swatches and text
Suit Catalog, "Made to Measure All Wool Suits," 1932 / THF600534

I.V. Sedler Company, Inc. (Cincinnati, Ohio)


Sheet with illustration of woman in hat and striped dress; text; two square swatches of striped fabric
Catalog, "The Nation's Stylists Present Sedler Frocks," 1934 / THF600502

Carlton Mills, Inc. (New York, New York)


Black-and-white photograph of man’s head and collar in middle of page with an oversized yellow striped necktie extending below; additional tie colors and patterns in shapes that look like the bottom of neckties on either side of middle illustration with numbers under each; text at top and bottom of page
Sales Catalog for Men's Fashion, 1940-1950 / THF670587

Harford Frocks, Inc. (Cincinnati, Ohio)


Illustration of blonde-haired woman in blue and white plaid dress and wide black belt; page also contains smaller black-and-white line drawing of back of woman in the same dress, a fabric swatch in a red plaid, and text
"Frocks by Harford Frocks, Inc.," 1949 / THF600604

Sears, Roebuck and Company (Chicago, Illinois)


Left side of page contains photo of room with green carpet and chair; red-and-green floral sofa and matching wallpaper; other occasional furniture and knick-knacks; right side of page contains images of fabric swatches and text
"Sears Decorating Made Easy," 1964 / THF600561


Samantha Johnson is Project Curator for the William Davidson Foundation Initiative for Entrepreneurship at The Henry Ford. Special thanks to Jeanine Head Miller, Curator of Domestic Life at The Henry Ford for sharing her expertise of the textile industry and for reviewing this content.

furnishings, entrepreneurship, by Samantha Johnson, fashion, manufacturing

Ford's New-Model Quality Center MS37640[1]
Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company Archives.

Restored architectural gem stands out in its industrial space
You don’t usually associate large manufacturing factories with architectural beauty. Sightseers at the Ford Rouge Complex’s glass plant, however, might be inclined to think otherwise.

This plant looks different. No concrete, only rivets and steel. From inside, the high roof and floor-to-ceiling windows create an unusually airy, spacious atmosphere. Natural light can’t help but stream in, creating a softness and easy glow.

Designed by famed American industrial architect Albert Kahn, the Ford Rouge’s glass plant was built in 1923 as an automotive glass-production facility. “It was about achieving volume,” Don Pijor, launch manager at the Dearborn Truck Plant and site expert for the glass plant, said of the building’s original design. “This space was built with steel columns riveted together, which gives it much more usable real estate.”

In the late ‘90s, the 40,000-square-foot building was taken out of the complex’s production equation, its sweeping windows covered with aluminum and its new primary purpose as a warehouse. 

When the restoration process began in the mid-2000s, the original intent was to transition the building into office space. Pijor later helped persuade Ford Motor Company leadership to put the plant to better use as a prove-out and employee training building for the Ford F-150, the truck built at the Rouge’s Dearborn Truck Plant.

Careful decisions were made at every corner during the restoration. The building’s window glass, for example, had come from Europe, so the restoration team reached out overseas to the original manufacturer for the glass to replace the windows. Entry doors to a fire station that was part of the building’s layout were also replaced to replicate those of the original specs.

“It’s beautiful,” Cynthia Jones, The Henry Ford’s Ford Rouge Factory Tour manager, said of the glass plant today. “There’s lots of natural light, and even though the fire station doors are in an area the public doesn’t see, restoring them showed respect for the continuing history of the site.”

Today, the glass plant is a house for innovation, used for prototyping by Ford engineers and designers. As a result of its newfound purpose, the building’s glass at the lower levels is frosted so outsiders can’t see the confidential work being done inside.

Said Jones of balancing the building’s historical integrity with its modern uses, “When you’re making choices about restoring buildings, you look at product — what is it we’re making at this place and what does it need? You’re also employee-driven because if they can’t do their job well here, changes have to be made. Third, how does it affect the area around it? I think this site has that balance.”

Though the effectiveness of the plant’s current functions are at the forefront of any decision-making about its form, preserving its history is meaningful for the people who work there as well as for posterity. Added Pijor, “To sit in this space and watch flaming ore cars go by, it’s as if it has been like this for 100 years.”

THF113886Ford Rouge Glass Plant, 1927. THF 113886

National Historic Landmark
The Ford Rouge Complex was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1978.

The rare designation (with just 2,500 historic landmarks nationwide) usually restricts future changes to a site. The Ford Rouge Complex, however, is recognized as remaining in continual operation, which means the designation can be maintained even as the site continues to evolve.

“It’s important for the public to be aware” of the designation, said Jones. The designation is marked at the complex’s entry with a plaque and a statue of Henry Ford.

Summer 2015 marked 100 years since Ford started acquiring the property which the Rouge now inhabits. “We’re carving out space within this giant industrial complex to recognize its history and the history of the hundreds of thousands of people that have been employed here,” said Jones.

manufacturing, glass, Ford Rouge Factory Complex, Ford Motor Company, design

Glittering, prismatic cut glass chandeliers were the most impressive pieces produced by Irish glass houses. This chandelier was made about 1795. (THF99901)
Imagine being invited to dine at a well-appointed house in Philadelphia, New York City, or Charleston at the end of the 18th century. You are welcomed into the house by a servant and led into the reception room by your hosts. After exchanging pleasant conversation, you are escorted into a dining room arrayed with fine china and brilliantly cut glassware. The room is illuminated by a large candlelit chandelier, as well as candlesticks and candelabras. The overall effect is glittering and prismatic.

Much of this cut glass would have been made in Ireland. Even today, when we think of cut glass, an Irish company—Waterford—is the first name that comes to mind.

Ireland’s Glass Industry
In the 18th century, glassmakers in England and Ireland (which was part of Great Britain) created exquisite glassware known as Anglo-Irish glass. These English and Irish craftsmen had learned techniques for producing fine glass from the Venetian artisans who had dominated European high end glassmaking prior to this time.

Yet, these English and Irish artisans evolved a distinct recipe that differed in its composition from Venetian glass: a mixture containing calcinated flints and pebbles, and employing lead oxide as a flux, or binder. The lead gave their glass a higher degree of refraction, creating glass that, when cut, could exude a brilliance unseen in previous European wares, greatly increasing its reflective qualities. In the shadowy, candlelit rooms of the 18th century, this increased illumination was very welcome. Soon, these English and Irish glassmakers specialized in cut glass—clear glass, not colored, since it better showed the brilliance of the faceting. These English and Irish makers built factories during the first half of the 18th century as the unique refractive quality of their glass gained them worldwide fame.

As part of the British Empire, Ireland was subject to British trade policies. Indeed, from 1745 until 1780, the Irish glass industry was not allowed to compete with English-made glass within the British Empire. Irish entrepreneurs put pressure on the British Parliament and in 1780 all restrictions were lifted. This “Period of Freedom,” as it was known, continued until 1825, when Parliament reinstated the tariffs. During this relatively brief span, the Irish glass houses of Dublin, Belfast, Cork, and Waterford produced incomparable wares, based on contemporary English designs. During this period of free trade, Irish glassmakers exported a large amount of glassware of all kinds—everything from tiny salt cellars and wine glasses to large scale candelabras and chandeliers.

Irish Glass in American Homes
glasscompote
The deeply flanged rim combined with alternating cut prisms on this 1800-1815 fruit bowl captured and reflected the candlelight in an elegant dining room. (THF155628)
epergne
This 1807-1808 Epergne combines deeply cut Waterford glass inserts with a silver support. Epergnes were used as centerpieces on dining room tables in the most fashionable homes (THF112273).
tumbler
This circa 1780 fluted tumbler held wine or water at table. Gilded floral garland decorations like the ones on the surface of this tumbler don’t often survive in such good condition. (THF155630)
Beginning in the 1780s, Americans saw significant Irish imports, although these would have been sold alongside glass from Central Europe (Germany and Bohemia) as well as British goods made in England. Nevertheless, the reputation for finely cut and faceted chandeliers and tableware put Irish glass at a premium. Americans loved the look of Irish glass. The dazzling effect of the reflection in candlelight showed that Americans, now independent of Britain, could attain interiors as fashionable as those in London.

In addition to dining rooms where cut glass serving ware predominated, Irish cut glass might be placed in parlors and other public rooms. If the homeowner was very wealthy, a candlelit chandelier could find its way into a parlor, too.

inventory
A preference for glass tableware extended well below the upper crust in late 18th-and early 19th-century America. The estate inventory of Robert Palethorp, Jr., a 27-year-old Philadelphia pewterer who died in 1822, reveals much about the contents of his middle class household. The goods in the parlor of Palethorp’s five-room house included four glass salts, 11 wine glasses, five glass tumblers, pme glass decanter and two quart pitchers (that were also probably made of glass) (THF113594).
American Glassmakers Join In
In the years following American independence, there was an interest in building a local glass industry. In the first half of the 19th century, foreign craftsmen, including Irish emigrants, sought greater opportunities in America. By the 1830s and 1840s, various firms—established by American entrepreneurs as well as immigrant craftsmen—located in coastal cities like Baltimore and Philadelphia, and inland places such as Pittsburgh and Wheeling, West Virginia. They gained renown for their fine cut glass tableware, many based on Anglo-Irish designs.

During the late 1820s and 1830s, American entrepreneurs also began experimenting with machine-pressed glass as a less costly alternative to cut glass. One of the leaders in this field was the Boston and Sandwich Glass Company, based in Sandwich, Massachusetts. Their early works are known as “Lacy” glass, which have a stippled surface intended to hide wrinkles caused by machine pressing on cold glass. Early pressed glass manufacturers sought to imitate the motifs found in expensive cut glass, specifically those pieces made in English and Irish glass houses. Americans of all economic means soon adopted pressed glass, although for the very wealthy, demand continued for cut glass.

Irish glass as a force in the international marketplace declined precipitously in the years after 1825. The impact of inexpensive pressed glass combined with a reinstatement of tariffs quickly decimated Ireland’s glass industry. The last to close was the Waterford house in 1851. (The firm that we know today was reestablished in 1947.)

The legacy of Irish glass lies in the elegant tableware and chandeliers of deeply cut, prismatic glass that we treasure today.

Henry Ford and Anglo-Irish Glass
footedglass
Footed Drinking Glasses, Waterford Glass Works, 1790-1820 (THF155631).
Nearly all of the Irish glass in The Henry Ford’s collection was acquired in the 1920s and 1930s, when Henry Ford began collecting in earnest for his museum. The objects included elegant chandeliers to light the front corridors of the museum (after being electrified), and cut-glass lighting devices and tableware to display in exhibits. For much of his early collecting activities, Henry Ford employed antiquarians such as Charles Woolsey Lyon, who helped locate and acquire decorative arts objects. In addition to Henry Ford, Lyon also acquired works for the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, and Henry Francis du Pont, who went on to found Winterthur Museum in Delaware.

plate
plate2

The large and small diamond patterns on these 1825-1845 pressed glass plates derive from Anglo-Irish patterns (THF304774) and (THF113593).

Charles Sable is Curator of Decorative Arts at The Henry Ford.

manufacturing, home life, by Charles Sable, Decorative Arts, glass

If you’ve visited Henry Ford Museum, you may know that Corning Glass Works’ patented ribbon machines manufactured incandescent bulb blanks faster than ever before. But did you know that these machines could also mass-produce Christmas ornaments?

By the 1950s, a retrofitted glass ribbon machine at Corning’s Wellsboro, Pennsylvania plant could turn out 1,000 glass ornament bulbs per minute! Read on to discover how a bit of innovative engineering, a world war, and some prodding from industry leaders helped Corning become America’s primary glass ornament supplier. (To see our 1928 Corning Glass Ribbon Machine, look here.)

Left: Corning glass ribbon machine #3 demonstrates incandescent lamp bulb manufacture at Henry Ford Museum
90.349.1 (THF88991). Right: A retrofitted ribbon machine shapes glass ornament bulbs at Corning’s Wellsboro, Pennsylvania plant in 1940. “Popular Science,” January 1941, Benson Ford Research Center.

Americans flirted with imported glass Christmas tree ornaments before the Civil War, and by the 1890s, it seemed they were in love. European artisans turned out huge quantities of shiny glass ornaments for the American market—glassblowers in Lauscha, Germany produced 600 ornaments per day! The affair even outlasted the blockades and embargoes of World War I, although American consumers nearly exhausted huge quantities of German ornaments stockpiled before the war. A few domestic manufacturers tried, but could never quite master the intricate glassblowing techniques or silvered lacquers that made European ornaments so popular. As postwar production ramped up overseas in the 1920s, European imports grew to 99% of the 50 to 80 million ornaments sold in the United States each year.

Left: This shiny bauble – called an indent because of its concave floral design - is representative of the German ornaments exported to the United States in the 1920s and 1930s. Its detailed form and silvered finish were nearly impossible for American glassmakers to replicate. 2004.87.26 (THF155292), Gift of family of Joseph & Helen (Szczepaniak) Lyk. Right: An American Christmas tree laden with imported glass ornaments served as a backdrop for this holiday snapshot taken around 1935. 96.119.1 (THF43930)

Stateside importers and retailers had a great deal to lose should anything impede the lucrative European-American ornament trade. One major stakeholder was the F.W. Woolworth Company. F.W. Woolworth first imported European glass ornaments in the 1890s, and by the 1930s, consumers depended on Woolworth stores nationwide for their yearly Christmas decorations. Max Eckardt, a German immigrant, also relied on the success of the ornament industry. Eckardt—who began importing ornaments around 1907, opened his own German ornament factory in 1926, and oversaw product distribution from his offices in New York City—had extensive knowledge of the German-American Christmas trade. In the late 1930s, as World War II rumbled ominously on the European horizon, he set out to secure the future of his ornament business on American soil.

In the summer of 1939, just as an Allied blockade of threatened to sever the German ornament supply, Eckardt and a representative from F.W. Woolworth Company visited Corning Glass Works, a large American glass manufacturer headquartered in New York. Corning had only experimented briefly with ornament manufacture before this meeting, but the two businessmen urged the company to begin full-scale production. It was a calculated choice—the company owned high-speed ribbon machine technology that could be converted to mass-produce ornament bulbs. Armed with this patented machinery and the promise of large orders from Eckardt and Woolworth, Corning agreed to enter the glass ornament business. Within a few months, Corning Glass Works was manufacturing more than half of the Christmas tree decorations sold in the United States.

Left: Corning’s machine-blown round ornaments were absolutely spherical and had a stout neck, which made them stronger and less fragile than the hand-blown variety. Right: In mere minutes, the Wellsboro, PA ribbon machine turned out as many ornaments as a full day of glassblowing. Here, a Corning worker searches for broken pieces in a fresh batch of cooled bulbs. Both images from “Popular Science,” January 1941, Benson Ford Research Center.

Wartime Ornament Decoration

Though Corning converted just one ribbon machine to manufacture ornament bulbs, production was staggering. In 1940, Corning produced 40,000,000 clear glass ornament bulbs at its Wellsboro, Pennsylvania plant. About 1/3 of these were decorated in-house. The remainder was sold to outside decorating companies.

The first domestically-produced ornaments mimicked European imports. The inside of each bulb received a coat of silver lacquer; the outside was tinted with colored dye. Then, after any desired hand decoration, the shiny baubles were topped with tight metal caps.

But in 1941, when the United States entered World War II, decorators were forced to rethink the American ornament. Popular lacquers became impossible to import, and most metals were diverted to the war effort. Despite material restrictions and wartime shortages, many innovative companies used available paints, sprays of tinsel, and even cardboard to decorate ornaments throughout the war.

Max Eckardt, who’d been instrumental in securing blank bulbs from Corning for his four New Jersey decorating plants before the war, produced some of the most popular domestic ornaments under the name Shiny Brite. Examples of Shiny Brite ornaments from The Henry Ford’s collection document the development of American ornaments through World War II.

1942-1945: This ornament was not silvered, as metallic lacquers were hard to come by early in the war, but resources still allowed for a thin metal cap, 2000.99.3 (THF155288)

1943-1945: When nearly all American metal was diverted to the war effort in 1942, Shiny Brite responded with folded cardboard hangers, 96.8.2 (THF155289).

1943-1945: Soon, the company replaced metal caps and hooks with a combination of cardboard, string, and glue, 2000.99.14 (THF155287).

1946-1955: Silver lacquer and metal caps reappeared after the war ended in 1945, 2003.120.5 (THF155294).

Popular Science images from “Birth of a Bauble,” pp. 110-115, Volume 138, Number 1. Find it at the Benson Ford Research Center.

Saige Jedele is Associate Curator, Digital Content, at The Henry Ford.

manufacturing, glass, holidays, by Saige Jedele, Christmas