If you enjoy vintage glass you know that most of the great American glass companies which made our favorite patterns are out of business. There are a few exceptions still operating like Anchor Hocking and Libbey Glass, but most closed their doors between the late 1920s and the late 1980s. Some companies sold their molds or names to smaller specialty firms that operate yet today.
But so many went out of business. Fires took out many glass plants back in the 1920s and 1930s, which makes sense when you consider how glass is made, with high heat. Competition forced many others to close their doors as did changing tastes and customer purchasing patterns. Many couples getting married today don’t select crystal, or if they do, they consider glass from places like Pottery Barn which is more casual. Perhaps this trend will reverse itself; we already see revived interest in cooking and home making than say 20 years ago.
We aren’t likely to see a resurgence of high end leaded crystal tableware though. We are more aware now of health and environmental risks.
Back in the mid 1980s I worked for a company that sold waste water treatment chemicals and we worked with Fostoria Glass manufacturing personnel to test our products. It was very interesting work, and the highlight was getting to tour the plant and watch glass artisans work. Fostoria was semi-automated, with hand work operations occurring on an assembly line basis.
Glass companies like Fostoria used lead in their crystal, plus other materials for color like cobalt. They etched their glass with a combination of hydrofluoric and hydro sulfuric acids. They rinsed the completed glass with water. Of course they could not discharge process water without treating it first but remember, there were few regulations back in the 1920s. It is no wonder that the plant site was badly contaminated.
The city of Moundsville purchased the old plant and demolished it over the last several years, then were faced with a massive clean up to remove the contaminants and asbestos. After four years of work by the city. RAZE International and new owner GAB Enterprises the West Virginia state Division of Environmental Protection has given conditional approval to the city to redevelop the site. This is a huge accomplishment.
I doubt we will see glass making go on again on the old factory location, but it would be a great location for other businesses. I wish the city well in redeveloping the site.
Here are a few articles for you about the clean up.