Indiana Glass Works and Its Ware

For forty years the Indiana Glass Works was the community’s leading industry, supplying work for 200 employees, and producing distinctive glassware to a large clientele throughout the world.  Though never highly profitable the company might still be in operation today had it not suffered a costly fire at the height of the depression.

As colonial expansion spread westward, the need for glass factories near the new settlements increased since the primitive transportation methods then available rendered it difficult to ship glassware safely.  Consequently, many glassworks sprang up in Western Pennsylvania, a development abetted by the availability of raw materials, fuel, and skilled labor.  Although Pennsylvania has led the nation in glass produced since 1860, the period of greatest growth began about the turn of the century.  About this time, Indiana entered the picture by establishing a glass factory which eventually made “Indiana Glass” famous throughout the world.

It all began on New Year’s Day, 1892 when a group of Indiana’s town fathers assembled in the office of Hon. George W. Hood to discuss an exciting new business venture with Mr. Nevill, a visiting glass expert.  Mr. Nevill had patented a series of glass molds which he claimed would increase production by one-third to one-half.  He proposed to form a company which would utilize his technique to manufacture glass in Indiana.  He hoped to establish a factory in Indiana where he would not encounter the antagonism of labor unions which had opposed his labor-saving methods.

Nevill claimed that a $40,000 stock issue would furnish sufficient capital to build and equip a glass factory that eventually would hire 200 employees with a monthly payroll of about $7,000.  The local magnates were so favorably impressed by Nevill’s glowing prospectus that they immediately subscribed $12,000 to the venture, and after the Indiana Board of Trade visited a glassworks in Blairsville, the remainder of the required funds was forthcoming.  The January 20, 1892 issue of the Indiana County Gazette announced in its headline that “Both Indiana and Blairsville will have Glass Works.”  By now the optimistic entrepreneurs were negotiating for a tract of land on the old Experimental Farm in West Indiana (now the site of the University parking area adjacent to Miller Stadium).

For several months there was no news about the glassworks and rumors began circulating that the project had died aborning.  Then on May 18, the Indiana County Gazette carried a page one article stating that company officials had opened bids for the new factory.  C.E. McSparran, a West Indiana builder, submitted the lowest bid, $4,600, and was awarded the contract.

In the ensuing months, things began to hum.  Mr. Vandersaal assumed his duties as superintendent of the building; a railroad siding was completed; Mr. Nevill’s glass molds arrived; a 130-foot well was sunk to supply water; and the 80’ x 220’ building took shape.

Early in November construction was finished, and the building was thoroughly dried out by heaters for two weeks.  Then on Monday, November 14, 1892, the Indiana Glass Works staged elaborate ceremonies to inaugurate the startup of glass production.

glass factory
Indiana Glass Works Plant in Indiana

At 2:00 p.m. Judge Harry White delivered a speech to the employees and invited townspeople extolling the benefits which the new company would bring to Indiana.  Afterward the visitors entered the works to witness the fascinating operation of glass making.  The process began in the ten huge iron pots into which the workmen poured sand, lime, soda, and special coloring ingredients.  Each pot was heated in a gas fired brick kiln.  When the solid ingredients fused into a molten mass, the clear viscous glass was removed and pressed into molds or blown into the desired shapes.  The plant produced both crystal and colored glass.

The shaped glass articles were annealed in four 65-foot long heated lehrs in which the temperature gradient gradually decreased as the glass traveled from one end to the other.  After being thoroughly tempered, the glass articles were sorted, decorated, and packed for shipment.  Decorators were highly skilled artisans who received five to six dollars per day, wages which attracted many skilled and meticulous craftsmen from Bohemia.  Before long the plant employed almost 200 workers with a monthly payroll of $10,000.  A staff of eight highly paid salesmen carried samples and portfolios containing lithographs of the complete line of glassware which they displayed to prospective customers in all parts of the country.

The company’s announced policy was to produce handsome specialties that would be both ornamental and serviceable.  Designs were changed annually to meet the popular demand for new styles.  The manufactured items which in time became collectors items included:

Lampshades                                        tumblers

Sewing lamps                                      goblets

Lantern globes                                    wine glasses

Cream pitchers                                    salt and pepper bottles

Soda glasses                                        molasses jugs

Although the Indiana Glass Works constituted a definite economic asset to the community and established a reputation as a producer of quality glassware, the company’s profits proved disappointing.  Consequently, the management underwent successive changes.  The company had not been in operation long before the Northwood family, father and son, assumed control of the firm and renamed it the Northwood Company.  The Northwoods in turn were succeeded by the Dugans, father and two sons, from England who changed the name to the Dugan Glass Company.  The Dugans brought with them a number of English workers who settled in Indiana.  In 1913, the company changed names for the last time when it became the Diamond Glassware Company.

When World War I shut off imported glassware from Austria and Bohemia, the demand for American glass zoomed.  The Diamond Glassware Company shared in this prosperity running at full capacity to fill orders booked months in advance.  During this prosperous period the local firm enjoyed peaceful labor relations.  The work week was five days, most of the workmen now belonged to the union.  The plant was shut down during the month of July each year during which period the employees enjoyed a month’s vacation without pay.

After the War, the plant resumed normal operations under General Manager H. Wallace Thomas and Superintendent John Richards, Jr.  Then on Saturday afternoon, June 27, 1931, tragedy struck the company.  Early that afternoon residents in the vicinity observed smoke curling over the roof of the plant followed shortly by raging flames which burst through the roof above the decorating room.  Firemen rushed to the scene and were able to confine the damage to the frame section of the plant which housed the stock room, decorating room, and office.  Although the origin of the fire was never satisfactorily determined, several theories were advanced.  One attributed the fire to sparks from a passing train, a second ascribed it to the spontaneous combustion of oily rags while still another postulated that a smoldering spark from a freak lighting storm the previous day was the culprit.

In an interview on the day following the fire, Manager Thomas and Superintendent Richards indicated that the company’s plans for the future were indefinite, but they believed that the plant would be rebuilt.  However, the sections destroyed by fire were not reconstructed nor did the plant ever resume production.  The decision to discontinue operation doubtless was dictated by a combination of factors including a lackluster profit record, the loss in the fire of $30,000 worth of stock, increasingly sharp competition from West Virginia and Ohio firms, and the generally dismal economic outlook at the height of the Great Depression.

After standing idle for years, the main glassworks building was razed thereby drawing down the curtain on the company which had been Indiana’s leading industry for 40 years.  But though the manufacturing facilities are gone, the objects of quality craftsmanship survive.  Such are the rewards of personalized labor which unfortunately seem doomed in our increasingly computerized society.

Socialist Women in Black Lick and Socialville

The coming of the Great Depression brought major economic and political changes to the county, as poverty and unemployment became more oppressive and pervasive, creating a situation which led some of the unemployed and their supporters to organize and protect.

The problems of the coal industry, the major business and the leading employer in the county, illustrated general conditions.  Many mines which had operated through the lean years of the 1920s had closed by 1932.  County residents also suffered when the unemployment rate reached 25.4 percent in 1932.  In that year the county fair was canceled for the first time in the twenty-five year history, because of the state of the economy.  Other indicators of the county’s economic plight included more than twenty-five thousand property liens issued by the tax collector in 1932, and more than nine hundred children unable to attend school because of a lack of clothing.

The Depression created great hardships, and county residents searched for new solutions to their problems.  The unemployed responded to this economic crisis by affiliating with national and state activities and groups and by establishing their own organizations.  When the national Bonus Army passed through Indiana County in the spring of 1932, local people gathered to cheer them on.  Father Cox’s Hunger March received a warm reception in Blairsville as they marched from Pittsburgh to Washington, D.C.  On the local level, the Worker’s Unemployment Council of Indiana County emerged in 1933.  The Workers Federation of Pennsylvania was also becoming active at this time.  Both groups held meetings and conducted protests highlighted by a giant action at the County Relief Board held by the Workers Federation in July 1933.  County and local unemployed groups had a diverse membership and leadership.  Socialists, including women such as Marie Widdowson and Florence McNutt, played prominent roles, through their activities.  Yet this along with the growing presence of the United Mine Workers and the Democratic Party failed to dislodge the Republican Party and the business elite from their dominant roles in Indiana County.

The Republican Party dominated politics in Indiana County prior to the mid-1930s.  This dominance reflected the realities of the state and the political power of the business community in the county.  Socialists failed to threaten this supremacy even with the opportunities provided by the Depression of the 1930s.  However, a different story unfolded in a small enclave around Black Lick and Socialville, a community named after the Socialists who lived there.  This enclave contributed many socialist candidates, hosted numerous speakers and provided a sense of community for participants in socialist activities.  Although socialist men contributed to these achievements, it was socialist women who played the pivotal roles.

Socialist Women Newspaper
Socialist candidate campaign advertisement from election of 1934.

Prior to 1930, Indiana County socialists engaged in a number of political contests.  In the election of 1912, Eugene Debs, the presidential candidate of the Socialist Party, polled 6% of the countywide vote, but did much better in the Black Lick and Socialville areas.  Reuben Einstein, a prominent Blairsville merchant, entered several local races, and in 1917 won 45% of the vote in a race for burgess of Blairsville.  Davis A. Palmer, a leading Black Lick merchant, ran several races for state and national offices on the Socialist Party ticket in the 1920s.

Socialists continued to run for office in the 1930s, with women joining men as candidates.  Marie Widdowson, a prominent Black Lick socialist, ran for a seat in the Pennsylvania General Assembly in the 1932, 1934, and 1936 elections.  In the latter year, Florence McNutt, another key Black Lick socialist, also ran for a Pennsylvania General Assembly seat.  While they won negligible proportions of the total vote, usually 2-3% in these races, in the races for local offices they achieved more impressive results.  Florence McNutt was elected as inspector of elections in Black Lick, and Marie Widdowson became the township auditor.

Black Lick and Socialville socialists maintained contact with the Socialist Party and other progressive causes by attending state and national conferences.  Florence McNutt attended socialist conferences held in Reading and Harrisburg, while Mrs. Eugene Morton of Socialville attended a socialist conference in Reading and Marie Widdowson and Rhoda Lowman of Socialville attended a state socialist convention in Harrisburg.  Mrs. Widdowson also attended a meeting of the Worker’s Federation held in Harrisburg and a meeting of the Continental Congress of Workers and Farmers for Economic Reconstruction held in Washington, D.C.  In addition, she represented Indiana County as a delegate to a meeting of the Women’s International League for Peace held in Pittsburgh.  Florence McNutt served as a delegate to the 1932 Milwaukee Convention of the Socialist Party which nominated Norman Thomas for President.

Socialists also hosted a variety of local activities which attracted large audiences and brought outsiders to the area.  Campbell’s Mill Park, in Black Lick Township, provided the site for outdoor activities, particularly the very popular annual Labor Day basket picnics.  In 1932, party members and friends from Indiana County and surrounding counties, including Allegheny County, attended the event.  The celebration featured athletic events, speakers and a supper served to over 300 persons.  Mrs. Mary Bennett (“Grandma Bennett”) won a special prize for being the oldest person at the picnic.  On a smaller scale, the enclave received some attention when Mrs. Eugene Morton hosted a meeting of the Young People’s Socialist League’s State Executive Committee at her home in Socialville.

Campbells Mill
Campbell’s Mill Park, location of socialist gatherings in the 1930s.

In addition to these special features, local socialists organized many ongoing services and activities. Some of these activities were directly related to socialism while others were of a general progressive nature.  The socialists established a reading room on Main Street in Black Lick for the benefit of the community.  While it housed some socialist literature, it also included a wide variety of reading materials, especially those which covered current events.  Regular meetings of the Black Lick local, often held in conjunction with an active Young People’s Socialist League branch, attracted approximately forty-five participants from both Black Lick and Socialville.  At these meetings members received pamphlets from the national office and discussed national and local issues.  The Young People’s Socialist League published The Rising Sun, a newspaper which contained articles about local and national history, and political commentary often written by Florence McNutt, as well as a page of ads for local businesses.  Local socialists also devoted much of their efforts to aiding the unemployed.  Several socialists played leadership roles in unemployed groups.  For example, Florence McNutt and Marie Widdowson served on a local committee to provide relief work for the unemployed.

Socialists also participated in more informal activities which included paying one another frequent visits and periodic bingo parties.  Socialville socialists, especially Mr. and Mrs. Eugene Morton, hosted most of the bingo parties, but Black Lick socialists also held parties.  These events raised funds for the Young People’s Socialist’s League and provided entertainment for guests who often numbered from twenty-five to forty-five.  Local socialists often exchanged visits and socialized and traveled together.  A few items from the many examples in the Blairsville Dispatch illustrate some of the personal connections which linked enclave socialists.  Florene and Darius McNutt and their children and Mrs. Widdowson were guests of Mr. and Mrs. Eugene Morton in June 1932.  Later that month Mrs. Morton was a guest of the Widdowson family.  The McNutt’s, the Widdowson’s and Mrs. Morton attended a meeting sponsored by the Saltsburg socialists held the following month.  In February 1933, Mrs. McNutt and Mrs. Widdowson were guests at the Morton’s, and later that month they attended a meeting of the Federated Council of Churches in Pittsburgh.  In November 1934, the Widdowson’s were guests of the Forest T. Lowman’s of Socialville.

These activities reflected and reinforced a strong sense of community which resulted from ideological affinities and connections based on family and friendship ties.  Florence McNutt was a cousin of Marie Widdowson who was the wife of Dr. Widdowson and the daughter of Jessie Palmer, both prominent Black Lick socialists.  Mary Jane Bennett (“Grandma Bennett”) played the pivotal role in Socialville both as a co-founder of the Socialist Party in Indiana County and as a mother whose daughters helped to spearhead enclave socialism in the 1930s.  For example, one of her daughters married Forest T. Lowman, a Nash dealer in Blairsville, and both of them became prominent local socialists.  Bonds of friendship helped to form ties between Reverend Theodore Miner, the leading Socialist in Saltsburg, and Black Lick and Socialville Socialists.  He joined the Black Lick socialists when they attended major meetings in Pittsburgh, and he came to many meetings in the Black Lick area.  He and his family were guests of the Forest T. Lowman family of Socialville in July 1933.  The following month Mrs. Lowman joined Reverend Miner and his family for an evening at Campbell’s Mill Park.  In November, Reverend Miner and his family were guests of the Widdowson family.  Furthermore, a strong friendship formed between Florence McNutt and Mrs. Miner.

In the Black Lick-Socialville enclave, women served as political candidates, convention and meeting participants and organizers of social events.  More crucial, however, was their role as initiators and catalysts.  Mary Jane Bennett played that role in Socialville and Marie Widdowson in Black Lick.  She brought Dr. Widdowson and Florence McNutt into the Socialist Party.  Under her tutelage his politics shifted from a conservative Republic stance.  Florence McNutt also experienced a political awakening through discussions with Mrs. Widdowson.

A small corps of women supported by men built a movement which produced annual picnics, a reading room, an ephemeral newspaper and frequent meetings.  They attended events in other locales, and attracted speakers and spectators to their local activities.  They saw the plight of people and worked through their own channels, unemployment organizations and government agencies to alleviate their problems.  They built a sense of community which sustained and nourished them.  They offered some residents of the area a temporary alternative or supplement to mainstream politics, information and entertainment.  Even after the demise of the local Socialist Party some of the women found other outlets for their civic-mindedness, with Florence McNutt playing a crucial role in the development of the community center and the park in Black Lick.

A Labor Trilogy Party III – Socialist Surges: 1912 and 1917

The Socialist Party reached its peak strength in 1912, and in 1917 performed well in several key municipal races.  Eugene Debs offered a rallying point for many dissidents.  In Indiana County the Socialist Party achieved limited success.  However, several communities provided Debs with significant proportions of the vote in the election of 1912.  His totals in these areas ranged from 10-40% of the vote.  The Socialist Party showing in 1917 had a very different character.  The major race featured Reuben Einstein, a prominent Blairsville businessman, winning 45% of the vote for burgess in an election against a fusion candidate.  Protest activity diminished in the 1920s but Reuben Einstein remained active.  A local of the Socialist Party operated in Homer City and John Brophy provided leadership for coal miners in District 2 of the United Mine Workers.  Socialist activity revived in the 1930s as unemployed organizations emerged and workers struck and organized.

Many observers viewed socialism as a rising tide between 1910 and 1920.  Europe exhibited numerous strong socialist movements.  In Germany the socialists played a particularly important role in the national legislature.  The United States failed to duplicate this level of performance.  Nevertheless, the Socialist Party of America became an important presence.  Eugene Debs, the party’s perennial presidential candidate, became the tribute of the poor and the conscience of the nation.  The party elected candidates, held meetings and published newspapers.  Cities such as Milwaukee and Reading became socialist strongholds and Debs won 17% of the Oklahoma vote in the 1912 election.  Schisms and other problems undermined the party but it achieved a temporary revival in the municipal elections of 1917.  Morris Hillquit, the Socialist Party mayoral candidate, polled more than 20% of the vote in New York City.

The Socialist Party of Indiana County began its 1912 campaign in February.  Jack McKeown, state organizer for the party, addressed a meeting at the Court House.  The following week a mass meeting at the West Indiana House resulted in the establishment of a permanent organization.  D.R. Palmer of Black Lick served as permanent chairperson and Reuben Einstein became the secretary.  The audience chose a committee of urged socialists to continue to educate the public until socialism achieved a global triumph.  A speech by James H. Maurer highlighted the activities of the following month.  Maurer, the only socialist member of the Pennsylvania Legislature, later became president of the Pennsylvania Federation and vice presidential candidate on the tickets with Norman Thomas in the elections of 1928 and 1932.  Maurer lectured to a large audience on the topic of “How our Laws are made.”  The audience included delegations from Clymer, Dixonville, Black Lick, Creekside, and Blairsville.  The sponsors invited workingmen, farmers and decent citizens and issued a special invitation to women.  Two other socialist speakers came to Indiana in April.

The election results showed the growth of socialist sentiment since 1908.  At the national level Debs increased his vote total from 400,000 to 900,000 in 1912 as he won 6% of the ballots.  His Indiana County vote almost tripled.  He polled a little over 6% of the vote in 1912.  In some districts, however, his performance far exceeded this level.  For example, he won 11% of the vote in Montgomery Township and 12% in Blairsville.  In some coal communities he achieved his peak strength.  Glen Campbell cast 24% of its vote for Debs as did Burrell Township.  Black Lick Township No. 2 cast 18 of its 45 votes for Debs as he outdistanced Theodore Roosevelt, the runner up with 12 votes, and the other presidential candidates.

The 1917 election lacked this broad based socialist turnout.  However, the race for burgess in Blairsville offered a showcase for an unusual socialist candidate – Reuben Einstein.  Einstein opened a clothing store in 1892 and soon achieved local prominence.  The Blairsville Evening Courier described his marriage to an Oil City woman in 1894.  The article noted their honeymoon trip to Niagara Falls and the many presents received by the bride and groom.  Einstein’s involvement in socialist politics preceded the 1917 campaign.  He played a role in the 1912 election and ran for Congress on the socialist ticket in 1914, polling about 5% of the vote.  The Blairsville Courier provided little news coverage of the race for burgess, but a series of socialist party ads and letters offered readers its perspective on the issues.  The party pointed with pride to its provision for the recall of officials unfaithful to their constituents.  Municipal housekeeping received consideration as the socialists promised to watch cost sheets carefully and town water works, streets and schools in a manner beneficial to the public.  The party promised to mail a leaflet “What Is Socialism” to every Blairsville voter.  The socialist party criticized the economic system for underpaying workers and an inability to generate sufficient demand to consume what the economy produced.  The final ad written by Reuben Einstein, criticized the railroads for gouging and called for the people to own the railroads as well as industry and the natural resources.  A fundamental problem resulted from our toll gate system in which the few exercised control over the industrial life of the nation and imposed low wages and bad conditions on the workers.

The race for burgess pitted Reuben Einstein against J.W. McAnulty who ran as a fusion candidate of the Republican, Democratic and Prohibition parties.  McAnulty viewed an unequal distribution of wealth as a natural condition.  His reply to the socialists emphasized his patriotism and a condemnation of the Kaiser as an enemy of mankind.  A week before the election Einstein pointed to his wealth as qualification for public office.  He stated that he paid more taxes than any individual property owner in town and depicted that status as a strong motivation to look after the interest of the voters as well as his own.  However, McAnulty won the race for burgess by 52 votes as he carried the 2nd and 3rd wards.  Einstein won 45% of the total vote and a 30 vote margin in the 1st ward.  Protest movements in Indiana County began to fade after this defeat although Einstein remained an active socialist, and John Brophy became a rallying point for miners in the District of the United Mine Workers as he opposed John L. Lewis and supported progressive measures including the nationalization of the mines.

Protest continued in Indiana County.  However, the 20th century differed from the late 19th century.  The role of farmers receded and the activities of miners increased.  The Greenback-Labor Party and the Populist Party gave way to the Socialist Party of America.  Protest lacked a county wide constituency but in some areas it emerged and even flourished.  Glen Campbell, Black Lick and Blairsville provided continuity with earlier protest movements.  In the 1930s socialism rose again and for a time Black Lick and other areas emerged as centers of protest.  The New Deal and the United Mine Workers received most of the attention, but grass roots activities by the unemployed, workers and socialists provided channels for protest as they had in earlier movements of the 1890s and early 20th century.