This blog post reproduces the outstanding article written by Frederick G. Griesmyer titled The Story of the Rise and Fall of Cleveland as Center for New York Glass Works. Originally published in Courier Magazine in January of 1954, Mr. Griesmyer, a former worker at the Getman Glass Factory, provides a detailed account of Cleveland’s glass industry. Although the text appears as published, images have been added, edited or relocated for formatting purposes.
The Story of the Rise and Fall of Cleveland as Center for New York Glass Works
by Frederick G. Griesmyer
It is easy to slip back over the years and visualize the days when the Red Men held domain at Cleveland, and the hard highways of today were the trails of the Indians and the crude rutted roads of the early settlers and there jolting oxcarts. It is easy and fascinating to look over the expanses of Oneida Lake, where General Washington and his aides spent some time during the Revolutionary War, and to trade the noisy, speeding motorcraft for silently gliding birch bark canoes. It requires hardly any imagination at all to step back in those days.
Much of the country around Cleveland is not yet very thickly settled. There is much woodland that only a few white men, mostly hunters, visit. It was once Oneida Indian county and they still claim it belongs to them, creating periodical attacks of nervousness among residents of the area by moves to reclaim it through the courts.
The Village of Cleveland at one time was the center of a large window glass industry. It is the largest of the lake villages, located on a commanding position overlooking Oneida Lake at its central and widest point. It has charming lake groves, a picturesque ravine through which winds a silvery stream, shady streets lined by cement walks, an abundance of pure, cold spring water with a pressure of 60 pounds, brought to every house and home by a gravity system from hills two miles away, electrified illumination, excellent hotels, a new modern school, the cost of which was $400,000, three churches, one Catholic and two Protestant, a well-organized volunteer fire department with three trucks and 50 members. Free ambulance service is available from a community-owned system, along with a faultless dial telephone systems, also a doctor with X-ray and all other latest modern equipment.
Cleveland’s village dates back to the arrival of its first white settlers, Christopher Martin and his wife, who settled on what was known as “The great lot No. 131″ in 1821, and they were the first settlers within the present corporation limits. Other settlers followed, some of whom erected the first saw mill in the village, so close was the forest. With this lumber many dwellings were erected and by 1846 Cleveland’s village had about 25 buildings. In 1834, a larger tannery was built which employed many hands; also a hotel, known as the famous Marble House, was erected.
Life around the lake in the early days of the settlements and even down to the last quarter of the last century was highly interesting, busy and picturesque. It was a heavily wooded country and especially rich in hemlock, and a large lumber trade was carried on for many years. There were 35 saw mills in operation at one time, and even down to a later period lumbering continued to be the chief industry. Many plank roads for travel were in use and a large number were being built, so shipments were by water; in winter by teams of horses over the ice on the lake to the New York Central Railroad. The first railroad outlet was give to Cleveland in 1872, when the New York, Oswego and Midland Railroad line was finished.
Cleveland village was incorporated by the Legislature on April 15, 1857. A regular organized fire department provided for in this charter, was maintained and in 1890 was equipped with a chemical hand engine.
The first newspaper published was the Lakeside News by Alvaro F. Goodenough in 1871. He changed the name to the New Era in 1873 and sold out to Charles R. King the same year. Mr. King changed the name to Lakeside Press.
At various times between the close of the Revolutionary War and the mid-19th Century, glass making was undertaken in many rural districts of New York State. Several of the more important either bordered on or were near Oneida Lake. Among these factories was the Cleveland Glass Works, located in the village of Cleveland, in the township of Constantia, Oswego County.
It was in the year of 1840 that Anthony Landgraff and his four sons, Francis, Harmon, Gustavus, and Charles, and his son-in-law, George Cowarden, built and operated the first glass factory in Cleveland, having come here from Vernon, Oneida County, because of the shortage of wood, which was used in melting glass. Cleveland, as previously stated, was surrounded then by forest. The fuel used exclusively was hemlock, cut fine, about three feet in length and dried in brick ovens, and the first wood cut for this purpose in Cleveland was piled against the drying house by the choppers, so nearby was the forest.
Landgraff built his own furnaces, pots, and other utensils used in the manufacture of glass. The melting pots were a little larger than a good-sized water bucket. A single blower could and did carry the posts and place them in the tempering oven. Their capacity was about 300 feet of glass, but double and single strength glass then only half their present thickness. The glass cylinders, ranging all the way from 12×18 to 22×28 single and about the same double, were mere pygmies by the size of the huge cylinders manufactured in the later years. Each blower gathered, blew, flattened and sometimes cut his own glass, and the tending boys (in later years called gatherers) were merely water boys and cylinder carriers.
Glass sand, one of the necessary elements used in the manufacture of glass was one of Landgraff’s problems. At first he boated his sand from Vernon, through Oneida Lake to Cleveland, but in 1841 he discovered a sand bed on which his works were located for superior to any he could obtain elsewhere. This led to the finding of other beds in different parts of the town which produced the finest silica sand in the country and to the permanent establishment of what was until recently a very important industry. For many years large quantities of Cleveland silica sand were shipped to other glass plants throughout the country including the Corning Glass Works, where it was used in making the “giant eye,” the 200-inch, world’s largest telescope that no reposes atop Mount Palomar.
Cleveland glass, produced from this fine silica sand, was famous for its brilliant limpid, bluish-aquamarine hue and had a high reputation in the glass marketed of the country.
Landgraff continued the manufacture of glass until 1861, when the works passed into the hands of William Sanders who in 1863 sold to Caswell and Getman.
In addition to the Landgraff factory, the Union factory was built at the upper part of the village, which was called Unionville, by a stock company composed mostly of Cleveland citizens in 1851. This factory consisted of an eight-pot furnace. It required 18 hours for one melt, therefore necessitating only one shift or tour. Blowers and gathers went to work at midnight Sunday and worked until 11 a.m. Monday, one hour out for lunch. The again went to work Tuesday at 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Wednesday 3 p.m. to midnight, Thursday, midnight to 11 a.m. Friday, and 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday. There were eight blowers, eight gatherers, two flatteners, two layer tenders and six cutters in this factory.
For several years after 1871, the Union factory remained idle. After several changes it was sold in 1882 to Crawford Getman, then proprietor of the Cleveland Works. In 1889, Mr. Getman sold the Union and the Cleveland works to the United Glass Company and this company conducted both plants until 1893-1894 when, owing to hard times, it was forced to close them down. On December 16, 1893, nearly all the workmen from the Union factory moved to Elmira, where a new factory had been built. The workmen in the Cleveland Glass Works were employed until February 10, 1894, when operations came to a stop owing to the heavy cut in duty on window glass and the probable difficulty of an adjustment of wages thereto.
Company homes were built in Cleveland for the workmen. Quite a number of these homes are still in good condition and occupied today. The workmen under Mr. Getman never did receive all cash payments for their services. Paper scrip of numerous denominations was issued instead, and this scrip was exchanged in Mr. Getman’s general store for the various personal and household supplies.
The Union Glass Factory was one of the best-built factories in the country, with good ventilation and an abundance of light from the large spacious windows. The United Glass Company abandoned the plant after 1893. After several years of idleness it was sold for $200 and torn down. The land where the Union Factory once stood is now a grass-grown pasture, with strewn fragments of glass still in evidence.
In 1889, there were nine glass factories in New York State. They were as follows: Syracuse Glass Company, Syracuse; Bernhards Bay Glass Works, Bernhards Bay; Delong Glass Company, Durhamville; Canastota Glass Company, Canastota; Ithaca Glass Works, Ithaca; Washington Glass Works, Ithaca; Clyde Glass Works, Clyde; Union Glass Company, Cleveland; and the Cleveland Glass Works, Cleveland.
By the beginning of the year 1894, the glass industry in Cleveland was an uncertain enterprise. However, due to the advance price of glass, the Cleveland Glass Works, under the United Management, started operation again on May 1, only to close down on July 1. Loss of the Union plant and the indefinite outlook for the resumption of the Cleveland Glass Works caused all the glass workers to secure employment in other glass factories throughout the country. The majority of these workers were employed in the Pennsylvania factories where the glass plants were operated by natural gas which was less expensive than the coal producer method used at Cleveland. However, the extensive beds of sand at Cleveland, which did not require long distance transportation, more than offset the added expense of producing gas from coal.
From July 1, 1894 until January 11, 1898, there was no glass manufactured at Cleveland. On the 5th day of May, 1897, the United Glass Company began to build over and enlarge the old Cleveland Glass Works. Large sums of money were expended to re-equip the old factory, changing the melter from a pot furnace into the largest modern gas and electric tank in the United States, with every facility for making glass. Several large buildings were constructed. The concrete foundation of the melting tank itself consumed 1,800 bags of cement and six carloads of cap brick where used for the oval shaped tank cap. This brick was a special fire brick imported from Belgium. The blocks, which weighed between 200 and 250 pounds each and were a part of the sides and foundation of the tank, were constructed to sand very intense heat, and also came from Belgium.
Railroad switches were laid around the outside of the factory, a large trestle, which held from that to four cars of coal at one time, was constructed so cars could be shifted upon the trestle and emptied in a short time. Under full operations, between five and six carloads of coal were used each full day.
The gas producers building was ?? feet long, 25 feet wide and 50 feet high with four large ventilators in the top.Â These producers produced gas from soft coal, and fed the gas into the melting tank.
Large flattening houses and cutting rooms together with box shops and warehouses were constructed. The warehouses were constructed to accommodate three or four railroad cars where the glass could be loaded directly into the cars. Cutting rooms were stalled off to take care of its cutters.
A large steel-riveted fire brick chimney, 25 feet in circumference and 110 feet high was erected near the producers for furnishing a strong draft to carry the gas into the melting tank.Â This chimney could be seen for miles around, and was used as a landmark by fishermen on Oneida Lake.
The melting tank was covered with a large iron hood over its entire length to lessen the chances of the woodwork taking fire from the intense heat.
The process of drying out the large melting tank was done with heat produced by fires made by the producers from several carloads of coke After the drying out process was completed, floaters, which are rings used to hold back all foreign substances from the glass gathering pots, were set with special tools. Then a preheating period began which required three to four weeks before the gas could be turned on. This heating was done by starting large wood fires inside of the tank, using round dry wood of three to four lengths. Eighty cords of wood were necessary to complete this operation. This heat treatment was necessary because the gas, if turned directly on a cold tank of such a structure, would cause a terrific explosion of the tank.
On December 23, 1897, the gas from the producers was turned on and into the tank. It caused a mighty roar which shook the plant structure. Steadily it settled down over the top of the ingredients that were eventually to become window glass. One week of this intense heat brought forth a small mirrored lake of melted glass ready for the skimming process, which removed all the foreign substances.
January 11, 1898, everything was in readiness to start operations. “Three tours of workers rotated around the clock. Midnight to 8 a.m., 8 a.m. to 4 p.m, and 4 p.m. to midnight. There were 48 blowers, 48 gatherers and 48 snappers; 16 on each shift. Three of the blowers were ‘Big Ring’ blowers. The blow-furnace was heated with oil and was separated from the big tank. There were 16 openings in the big tank, each approximately 20 inches in diameter, where the gatherers brought forth, after a fourth period of operation, a well rounded lump of molten glass on a blow pipe.”
The single (thickness of the glass) strength blowers handled 55 to 62 pounds of glass including the pipe; size of cylinder 40×56 inches, nine cylinders per hour or 65 cylinders for 7.50 hours work time. Double thick blowers handled 70 to 72 pounds of glass, including pipe, 40×60 inch cylinders, nine per hour, or 65 in 7.50 hours. Long narrow double blowers handled 72 to 77 pounds of glass, including pipe, 32 to 36 inches around and from 92 to 100 inches long; seven per hour or 50 in 7.50 hours. A big ring blower handled a cylinder 60 inches around by 80 inches long, 75 to 80 pounds; including pipe 115 pounds. He blew 42 cylinders in 7.50 hours and when that 75 or 80 pounds of glass was stretched out into a cylinder 60×80 inches, it required a man with great strength and skill to handle such a piece of work; in fact, all blowers required great strength and stamina.
By Thursday evening, January 13, 1898, approximately 5,500 cylinders of glass stood on their ends in each blower’s stall in the flattening house, ready to be flattened by 12 regular flatteners. This also was a tough job. They worked short tours, six hours on and six hours off, 54 hours [per] week. Each flattener flattened, according to their size, from 15 to 20 cylinders per hour.
Approximately 1,500 boxes of glass were cut each week by cutters. The instrument used to cut the glass was a small chip diamond set into the tip of a hard piece of oval-shaped copper which was attached to a small pencil-shaped piece of wood about five inches long, with two or three slots underneath which were used to break off a piece of glass that occasionally protruded out of the diamond path.
There was no glass manufactured during the summer months due to the intense heat from the furnaces which was unbearable. The company used those months for additions and repairs to the plant. Occasionally the big cap of the tank would fall in, and that suspended all work for a few months.
In 1900, the American Glass Company consumed the United interests in the Cleveland plant and operations began. The plant was operated until May, 1901, when it was closed down and never opened again. The American Company shipped all the apparatus of any value out of Cleveland to other parts of the country. The buildings were torn down and sold for scrap. The large iron smokestack was left standing which was used as a landmark by many fisherman on Oneida Lake. It was, however, eventually dynamited on April 18, 1937, and came tumbling down. It had stood over 40 years and was a mammoth structure, withstanding wind and storm until the end.
The glass industry, however, was far from a dead issue in Cleveland. The glass trusts found out that there still remained among Cleveland residents two veteran glass manufacturers and managers Crawford Getman and Eugene Morenus, who were experts in the business and believed that under proper conditions and good economical management the manufacture of glass could still be made to pay in its old home. They had contributed much and sacrificed much toward building the old tank only to see it closed after a few months on the grounds that it did no pay to make glass in Cleveland.
Messrs, Getman and Morenus turned to the glass workers and urged them to form a workers’ cooperative corporation, formulated by Attorney Gallagher, promising that they and the citizens generally would aid in the undertaking. A meeting of workmen and citizens was held and the plan of Mr. Gallagher’s adopted, and under his counsel and aid, the company was organized and incorporated under the name of the Getman Window Glass Company a just tribute to that gentleman and a recognition of his zeal, aid and persistence in behalf of the project. Mr. Morenus was elected president and superintendent of the new company. He had the entire responsibility for the construction of the plant. It was a cold, hard, vexatious task performed during an unusually long and severe winter, but done with economy, fidelity and trust, and the result of his skill and labor was seen in the substantial and unique buildings erected at a comparatively low cost and in a remarkably short time with the many difficulties taken in consideration.
The Getman Window Glass Company built at a cost of over $60,000, and was up-to-date in every respect; equipped with one of the Dixon flowover, 24-blower capacity tanks and Swindel gas producers. It was run on a strictly cooperative basis, each gatherer, blower, flattener and cutter subscribing $1,000, pledging in the articles of agreement that they leave 20 per cent of their wages as a sinking fund in addition to the net profits of the business. The balance necessary to build the works was raised by selling bonds to citizens and capitalists.
The factory employed about 125 men unmatched in skill and industry, and with an abundance of cheap, excellent sand, good shipping facilities and low taxation, the prospects were indeed favorable for a paying industry.
On Wednesday morning, May 14, 1902, at 8 o’clock, the Getman Glass Company commenced the manufacture of window glass and it was the beginning of the third period as a glass town. The factory made a record run for six weeks, closing down for the summer months, June 30, 1902. For the time the factory was in operation they made 12,000 boxes of glass, several carloads being shipped each week. The glass had a wide reputation for its superior qualities.
Work was resumed the following September, and the first full season’s run was completed April 18, 1903, the output being over 2,000 50-foot boxes of glass per week. The company paid about $85,000 in wages to its employees.
Despite warning and ominous prophecies, in which idle and insolvent plants were pointed out, the Getman Glass Company launched a successful business venture. The success of this enterprise was the enthusiasm with which the work was taken up by the working stockholders, aided by numerous young Clevelanders who were eager to become a part of the industry.
New stockholders were taken into the organization and the Getman factory operated very successfully until 1910, when the plant was closed and never did reopen. The reason for this closing was due to the difficulties beyond the control of the stockholders and management.
We mentioned previously that gas, which melted the glass ingredients, was produced from soft coal, and when this became a costly item due to rising prices, plus the fact that window glass was being manufactured by natural gas and machines in other parts of the country, manual labor wages in the Cleveland plant could no longer be paid at the then prevailing scale. For two years, previous to 1910, blowers, gatherers, flatteners, cutters and other workmen labored hard, with reduced wages, to keep the plant in operation only to succumb to the greater competition of the machine plants.
Cleveland suffered a great loss financially. It did not, however, end the glass workers from plying their trade in other hand plants which were still trying to hold on. These eventually gave way to machines and all hand plants are now out of business.
The Getman Glass Company with its up-to-date machinery and its product incomparable, was bankrupt. The plant was no longer of any use as a factory and during World War I was torn down and junked. Each working stockholder had paid in on an average $800.00. That was the end of glass making in Cleveland.
Cleveland is far from the prosperous and lively village of the old days. The period from 1834 to 1910 contained the palmy days. The tanneries, numerous saw-mills, brickyards, chair factory, wagon shops, boat yards, shoe factory, canning factory, feed mills, glass factories, race track, high-bred horses, and the crack ball clubs are gone; gone also are the great primeval forests which made this busy variegated life possible; and with them went the teamsters, the choppers, the peelers, the sawyers, the canalers, the tanners, and many other varied tradesmen. The remnants of these people are scattered far and near; in New York, Canada, in the south and west, never to return again. But the lake and rivers, which will perpetuate their names, are here forever for the present residents of Cleveland to have, to hold and to enjoy.
Oneida Lake and its surrounding villages are now fast becoming summer resorts. Industry has moved to nearby cities, where will be found many surviving children of Cleveland’s old settlers. The old people are mostly gone and only a few remain who have spent the greater and nearly all their lives in Cleveland.
Editor’s Note: The author of this article speaks with authority, for he once worked in the Getman Glass Factory. He was also a telegrapher at Auburn, where he covered many an electrocution and worked under W.O. Daping, who covered the electrocutions for the Associated Press. Mr. Dapping is today managing editor of the Auburn Citizen-Advertiser.