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Laurens Glass Works History

digdug

Well-Known Member
Nov 4, 2004
1,063
0
Atlanta
While searching the web today I came across this article by accident. A very interesting read on the history of Laurens Glass Works. So, if you are tired of reading about Ahab the Arab on the forum.....here is something completely different.

Read it HERE

Sorry I couldn't take the link length. Good read though a bit wordy for me but thank you! I'll try to save it for more read later.
Also, quite sick of the sheik myself.
 

epackage

Well-Known Member
May 3, 2009
18,891
38
Jersey
From Cracked to Perfect Bottles
Laurens Glass Works: 1910-1986
Fritz Hamer
25

Looking back fifty years in 1975, Hugh Morgan Sr. reflected nostalgically about the Laurens Glass Works where he had worked since 1925. Having observed a steady expansion of the plant over those years the retired employee reflected that, "Some of us old timers will miss a part of the new things that are on the way." Indeed the Laurens plant had seen amazing growth since its founding in 1910. From renovated furniture factory building with an estimated workforce offifty to seventyfive, it had grown into a maJor manufacturer of glass bottles and containers with employment at more than eight hundred by the early 1970s. Yet the rosy future that Morgan predicted proved illusory. By 1996 after mergers with several larger glass manufacturers over two decades, Laurens Glass would close its doors for good. This paper is an initial study-an overview of the founding of Laurens Glass, its labormanagement relations, and its successful growth and expansion over the decades. For more than eighty years its well crafted soft drink bottles, its stable work force, and its many clients throughout the Southeast and beyond made it one of the premier manufacturers in the region. Unfortunately, in the 1970s, the success it had achieved was slowly but steadily being displaced by the advent of plastic containers.

Ironically, Laurens Glass almost failed before it really began. The company's early history is sketchy, however, since few documents about its origins remain. It started with great fanfare as the state's second glass bottle producer. Columbia had the distinction of having the Palmetto State's first-Carolina Glass Company-which had opened in 1902 initially to produce bottles for the controversial South Carolina Dispensary. When this state monopoly was eliminated in 1907 the Columbia firm focused on soda, mineral water and medicine bottles. But for unknown reasons it closed in 1913. The Laurens project was the brainchild of a few prominent business and political leaders in the Laurens community led by Nathaniel Dial. A lawyer and businessman who seemed to epitomize the New South ideal of economic progress, Dial already had established a textile mill in Ware Shoals, a bank in Laurens, several power plants, and other entrepreneurial ventures in the upstate. Along with five other Laurens business leaders Dial formed a partnership with a capital investment of $50,000 to "manufacture botdes, glass, glassware ... " and other articles usually made by a glass factory. The new enterprise also planned to mine and quarry stone, rocks, and the "products and by-product thereof. " Speculation remains regarding why these men chose establish their plant in this particular upstate town, but there may have been at least two reasons. The essential ingredient for glass production are sand (silica), soda ash, lime, and feldspar. One of these, sand, naturally occurs in Laurens County. Marion and Lexington counties, in eastern and central South Carolina respectively, have high quality natural glass sand deposits. It is also possible that they saw a chance to emulate Carolina Glass Company, which was still operating. "When the first shift began in January 1911, local interest was high. A departure from the textile enterprises that had proliferated throughout the upstate by this time, Laurens Class Works must have seemed an unusual attraction. Some of the earliest bottles produced went to the local Sanders Bottling Works, but tlle enterprise lacked sufficient expertise. By late 1911 the firm halted production because of persistent problems with the quality of its glass."

Laurens simply seemed to lack workers with sufficient skills and knowledge to produce bottles that were of consistent quality. During this era glass making was as much an art as a science. Without skilled personnel to measure the raw materials accurately, the glass produced often shattered or cracked in the mold. And when the glass bottle came out of t.he mold-at several hundred degrees or more-it had to be slowly cooled in an annealing machine or luhr. No matter how well the raw ingredients were measured in the furnace, glass that cooled too quickly would crack or shatter as well. It is unclear what tlle specific problems were during the first months of production at Laurens Class, but it appeared that one or both of these problems existed. Consequently, while the plant remained out of production for a year, the investors recruited people who had the knowledge and experience to make a quality product. This meant that the southern owners looked north to production centers
in Indiana, Ohio, Western Pennsylvania, and New Jersey where glass manufacturing had become a mature industry since at least the last quarter of the nineteenth century. Production resumed at Laurens Class in early 1913 with better results. During the following two decades most of it clients came from the upstate and from other communities within South Carolina and contiguous states. Bottles were produced for mineral water producers such as Chick Springs in Greenville County and Hanis Springs in southern Laurens County. Medicine bottles were also made for local druggists such as Orangeburg's Wannamacker Manufacturer.

One of its first major soda drink bottle contracts was with Coca-Cola. Until 1899 Coke had been a fountain drink, but as the new century began a Chattanooga firm received permission to bottle the drink for distribution to a wider clientele. As a result, by 1915 Laurens became one of three southern finns to produce Coke bottles. Contracts for Coke would be one of the firm's mainstays during it first decade of production. The business relationship with Coke would continue for the next seven decades. The upstate plant made several types of Coke bottles, ranging from the classic six-ounce hobble skirt shape patented in 1915 to the twelve-ounce and commemoratives made later in the century.

Laurens Glass Works steadily grew over the next several years despite occasional setbacks caused by economic downturns or war. Before World War I the plant saw production cut back and work shifts reduced to one a day for periods of several weeks. During the post-war depression of the early twen ties, the Laurens firm had to shut down production for several months but resumed work in early 1922. In spite of slowdowns the reputation of its product did not appear to suffer. Contracts with Coke bottlers throughout the region continued to grow, while new clients in the
Southeast, both big and small, sought the L"lurens product. Laurens Glass bottles from the Holcom be collection show that southeastern bottlers of Frosty Root Beer, Dr Pepper (Waco, Texas) , Pepsi (Eastern North Carolina), CheroCola (Columbus, Georgia) , among many others, had contracts with the upcountry bottle manufacturer during the twenties and thirties. Smaller bottlers such as Game Cock Ginger Ale (Greenville) and the firm of Strawhorn and Seago (Greenwood) also ordered from Laurens Glass.

To turn out bottles of enough quantity and quality required production and organization skills that Laurens Glass had acquired after its initial difficulties. Although some accounts claim that its glass blowers and their assistants made bottles by hand in the first decade of production, these claims are only partially accurate at best. Extant Laurens bottles show that until 1920 the body ofthe container was produced in a machine mold. Then the top portion where the lip and neck came together had to be tooled by hand. It is uncertain how many bottles could be made
with this method. In 1911 it was estimated that in the first months of production the fledgling firm would soon produce "a cartload of bottles daily." It is unclear how much this amount would have been. As late as 1922, after work had just resumed following everal months of inactivity, bottle production was estimated at two hundred to two hundred fifty per day. By 1925, when bottle production was completely mechanized, Laurens had at least one tank to mix and create the molten glass while two Lynch L.A. machines produced fourteen to sixteen bottles per minute. Production had increased so substantially by the following year that Laurens Glass claimed to produce twenty-five million soft drink bottles annually. While this may be an exaggeration, it is certain that the firm's production rate accelerated significantly during the twenties. It is likely that several million bottles were produced annually by the middle of the decade. Even as bottle production increased at significant rates after
1925 some procedures were still based on manpower. Hugh Morgan recalled that at this time Laurens Glass still used human power to pull the finished but still hot bottles through the long lehr machine to cool the containers gradually. Sometime later a machine-powered belt replaced the hand-pulled chains in the lehr. The plant continued to enhance its mechanization through the following decades while increasing its production volume by several magnitudes. Yet until the 1950s Laurens continued to mix the sand and the other ingredients by hand, measured in pounds
per wheelbarrow load.

Despite the Great Depression of the 1930s Laurens continued to thrive and even expand its operation. More tanks and new machines were added periodically to replace or upgrade old ones. By 1932 the Glass Works had three tanks and eight automatic machines. Later in the decade Laurens Glass made a large, new investment in more equipment at a cost of $400,000, which probably included machinery for the new bottle labeling process, Applied Colored Labels. This process enabled the firm to produce a label that was more durable and colorful than the label produced
by the traditional paper label application and embossing process, which had been used up to that time. With this new ability the firm's growth was assured, especially after 1945. In 1946 over $600,000 was invested to expand and add new equipment, including a new building with an additional furnace and more bottle making machinery. By the late 1950s Laurens Glass could not keep up with demand despite five furnaces and eight bottle-making machines. Thus in 1959 a second bottle plant opened in Henderson (North Carolina) followed by a third in Ruston (Louisiana) early tile following decade. The firm's zenith appeared to have been reached in the late sixties when the national glass producing firm, Indian Head Glass, bought it out.

While leadership and investment money were crucial to the success of tlle Glass Works, an experienced, skilled work force wasjust as important. In the wake of the glass quality problems in 1911 management hired many glass workers out or the glassmaking regions of the Midwest and Northeast. Fortunately, the Laurens Glass owner, had the money and time to recruit the experienced labor they needed. Glassblowers, assistants, and ot,her specialized workers from Illinois, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New Jersey were recruited while the plant remained inactive for about a year.
William Bryant, the operating manager, came from Ohio and brought several more glass blowers and assistants with him. John Finkbeiner, a native of Germany, brought his wife and four sons from Clarion County in West Pennsylvania, another center of glass production. By 1920 Finkbeiner was superintendent of the Glass Works and had two sons, Albert and Rudolph, employed as glass blowers. His second eldest son, Robert, brought his own young family with him to work in Laurens as a glassblower. George Creamer from Streator (Illinois) brought his glass knowledge to Laurens as
well. Frank Barber from New Jersey served as a glass blower in Laurens and brought his wife with him from the Garden State.

Just as important to the operation were the mold makers. Although Laurens purchased molds from factories in Toledo (Ohio) and other midwestern factories, these skilled mold makers had to make and revise the mold designs to suit each order and to repair them when necessary. One of the first in the groups of mold makers who came to Laurens was the Zupp family. Adam Zupp came from New York, where he probably learned the mold trade from his German-born father. He was probably recmited to join the fledgling upstate finn in 1913. It was in the Laurens Glass Works that he later taught his son, George, the trade. By the middle of the century the younger Zupp would teach the trdde to the next generation of mold makers.

The census data of 1920 seem to indicate that most, if not all, of the skilled work force came from the Midwest and East, while the laborers who unloaded the ingredients for glass making, loaded the finished bottles, and did other less skilled jobs were locals, and often Mrican American. Thus while people like Finkbeiner and Zupp operated the skilled parts of the operation, African Americans like Martin Meadors, Chester Henry, and Ella Duckett from South Carolina made up much of the less skilled labor force. Nevertheless some whites like J. M. Rogers were in these
positions as well. Although sixty-four years old, Rogers worked in the packing crew of the Glass Works preparing finished bottles for shipment.

Despite the racial divide between skilled and less skilled labor, wages appeared higher than for comparable jobs in the upstate's major industry, textiles. In 1913 wages were "nearly equivalent" to those of each of the local textile mills. Although this is speculative, it is reasonable to assume that management had to compete with the textile industry to attract and keep the skilled workers necessary for a viable operation. This situation also seemed to apply to less skilled jobs. By the 1940s wages appeared better than for most textile occupations of equivalent status. Less skilled
positions in the warehouse and loading section were able to attract Bill Mills, an African American, who began working there in 1939. Because everything was loaded into boxcars by hand, the hours were long and difficult. Yet Mills left only because of World War II. In 1946 he returned to the plant to resume his old job and remained there for the rest of his career, retiring in the late 1970s.

Some families had two or three generations who worked at Laurens Glass. The Finkbeiners worked in both skilled and managerial positions up through the 1970s, as did the Zupp family. Many other employees without a generational connection still remained there throughout their careers. Warehouse Manager Furman Parris started as a laborer at the plant in 1962 and stayed more than four decades, earning promotions until he became shipping manager. Ten years earlier Hugh Edwards had begun his career in the decorating department where ACL labels were baked on
bottles. When Laurens stopped the production of soda drink bottles in the mideight. ies he had to change duties but remained at the plant until his retirement in the 1990s. Those workers interviewed agreed that throughout the last half~century of the firm's life, pay and working conditions were the best in the area .

Women were also part of the work force. Until the late 1930's or 1940s they worked only in the oflice in what appear to have been secretarial positions. When the ACL process was introduced prior to World War II, women began to work in the decorating department. By 1946 they were integral to this process at Laurens Glass. Some women loaded bottles into boxes after the labels were applied. Others loaded unlabeled bottles into the ACL machines to have the markings applied. Some families had both spouses employed at the plant for several years. By the last year of
Laurens Glass' operation, Melody Motes had put in twenty years at the plant. Her husband had worked there for thirty-four years. A brother-in-law had put in twentyone, and her son, aged twent.y-five, had worked several years for the company.

This seemingly ideal work place for men and women nevertheless had a union organization at least as early as 1919. Oflicers for local Branch 35 of the National Glass Bottle Blowers Association included Dan Dowdy, president, and L. W. Higbe, vice president. By the 1940s there were two locals in the plant, which apparently represented the white and black workforce. In 1970 these branches were integrated in conformance with the era's integration in other sectors of southern society. How much impact the union had on labor-management relations during the plant's early decades is unknown. Nevertheless, by the middle of the century it had a significant role. The first documented stlike in late 1951 lasted six weeks. Details are sketchy, but one cause appeared to be the Union's demand to represent all workers in labor contracts. Another issue concerned modernization. Bill Mills recalled that management tried to dismiss those on the work force who were deemed too inefficient to aid in the modernization of production at that time. The final agreement that ended the strike in early December was not disclosed. It appeared that management prevented the union from winning its demand for sole light to represen t the work force in future negotiations. Workers, however, estimate that during the last two decades of tile firm's operation more than 80 percent of employees were paid union members. Whether the strike forced management to stop dismissing workers as the plant modernized is unknown.

Other job actions occurred in the sixties and seventies. In 1968 a seven-week strike ended in March after management agreed to pay increases for all employees. In the 1970s the Laurens firm stayed closed for five weeks when a national strike was called by the union over dual job responsibilities during the same shift. Management did not want employees to spend their entire eight-hour shift monitoring automatic machines that required little maintenance. They argued that this was too costly and that workers should do other jobs while they monitored the machines. The compromise eventually reached allowed workers a two-hour monitoring limit so supervisors could assign them to other duties during their eight-hour shift. One mold shop worker recalling this strike remembered that most of the work force opposed the job action, but since it was mandated by the national union, the local chapter had to comply.

In any event, friction between management and labor was minimal most of the time. Various indicators suggest that relations were usually harmonious. After Nathaniel Dial and his original investors helped the Laurens firm get started, Dial's nephew, Albert Dial, assumed leadership of the firm. The younger Dial was the inspirdtion behind Laurens Glass. He led the reorganization and hiring of skilled workers from the Midwest and East and oversaw the firm's establishment in the glass bottle business before his premature death in 1928.

Ernest Easterby succeeded the younger Dial, and he, too, became a force behind the glass plant's survival and early growth. Also a Laurens native, Easterby had progressed through the ranks and worked alongside Albert Dial. Once he assumed the leadership of the firm he remained its president for over forty years. He earned the respect of most employees at Laurens Glass. Those who worked under his regime until his death in 1974 remember his even-handed demeanor and encouraging comments on and off the production tloor. Born in 1888, he had worked at the
upstate firm from it early days and was an important collaborator with Albert Dial in resurrecting the fledgling firm after its initial failure in 1911. He relinquished his post as president in 1971 but stayed as chairman of the board until his death. The success of Laurens Glass under his long tenure indicated his sound managerial skills, which kept most confrontations between management and labor to a minimum.

Some of Easterby's style had a practical purpose. Work inside a glass plant was dirty, dangerous, and h6t, with molten glass somctimes at temperatures of nearly 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit. Flexibility in management was a necessity to maintain good morale. And with skilled workers it was important to keep thcm satisfied. One by-product of this flexible attitude can be seen in the whimsies or after-hour glass created on the production line. These idiosyncratic glass ornamenL were fashioned during second and third shifts when management supervision was minimal or when there was a break in production. It is uncertain when the practice began, but workers were producing such items in the early 1960s. Glass ashtrays, canes, various odd shaped design pieces, and long-necked objects formed while glass was still pliable were created by workers when they could do so and when they thought supervisors were not around. These items were taken home or given away to fellow workers. Robert Young, who worked in the mold shop for over thirty years, recalled that he sometimes made pieces of cast iron into a mold to make ashtrays and other glass trinkets. Sometimes his imagination went beyond simple designs and led to unexpected benetits for his employers. In the 1970s when the C. F. Sauer Company of Richmond, Virginia, was prepaIing to celebrate its centennial year of producing mayonnaise and other condiments, Young decided he would do a small batch of jars to commemorat.e this anniversary. He created designed molds with "Happy 100th Anniversary C. F Sauer" embossed on the side. Six dozen were produced and sent to the regional manager in Greenville, South Carolina. When Sauer managers saw them they were so impressed that nearly fifteen hundred more were ordered. Although such independent action probably was unusual, whimsies continued to be made until the plant closed. And while some employees claimed that the finn's management knew of the practice, it rarely interfered and, if it did, the resulting reprimand was mild and without repercussions.

Although whimsies represented the longest enduIing piece of spontaneous creativity at Laurens, workers' talent earned some special contracts. During the decade of the sixties the upstate Glass Works was hired to make Coke bottles for an Israeli customer who ordered Hebrew script on one side of the bottle. Only a few remain today, and several of those working at the plant recall this order. About seven cases were made and they were delivered to Charleston, presumably for shipment to the Middle East .Perhaps the most prestigious order received by Laurens Glass Works was in 1963 and associated with one of the nation's greatest tragedies. As Vice President Lyndon B.Johnson prepared to welcome PresidentJohn F. Kennedy for a Texas visit in November, he planned a reception for the nation's chief execlltive at his Texas ranch. Being a man who both respected and sought status, Johnson wanted soda club bottles made with the vice presidential seal inscribed on each bottle. Laurens
Glass received an order for 2,400 Canada Dry Club Soda bottles with the stipulated seal. They were shipped to a Waco, Texas bottler for filling, but Kennedy was assassinated before Johnson's reception could occur. In the aftermath of this tragic event, the new President ordered all the bottles scrapped. Even though most probably were destroyed, a few survived and are highly desired by bottle collectors today.

While these special contract marked Laurens Glass Works as one of the nation's top bottle manufacturers, the importance of glass bottles in American stores and households started to decline as plastic bottles and other containers began to replace them in the mid to late seventies. As this trend accelerated and larger and larger conglomerates absorbed more bottling business, the upstate firm's place in the market declined.
Speculation surrounds the reasons for the 1968 sale of the family-run Laurens Glass to Indian Head, a larger, national firm in Wilmington(Delaware). Publicly Easterby claimed the merger gave Laurens better business opportunities. At the time he still claimed that Laurens Glass management would remain in etfective control and the daily operations would remain the same. Reflecting on the merger years later, employees have offered other reasons. One suggested that the family-operated tirm was losing its allure for the next generation of owners, its main shareholders.

The merger was an ideal opportunity to get out of the business and make a good return on investments. Another explanation appears even more plausible. Having observed changes in the container business over time, Easterby realized that in another decade or so plastics would displace glass. He decided to sell to make the best return for the original investors before the glass market fell. Whatever the reasons, for the next decade production and sales remained good and thrived after Indian Head moved its headquarters from Wilmington to Laurens in 1974. But later Indian Head itselfwas absorbed. By 1990 Laurens had become a subsidiary of the container conglomerate, Ball-inCon, based in Indiana. In 1986, with plastic bottles now dominating the market, Laurens ceased glass soda bottle production and focused on glass jars and containers for foods and medicines.

Ten years later Laurens Glass announced its closing. With glass beverage bottles virtually displaced by plastics, the attempt to find another niche in the glass container business seemed out of place for a finn that had made it name with soda bottles for so long. But the company's tinal demise stemmed from more practical business issues, namely old equipment, the plant's inability to expand and accommodate updated machinery, and transportation costs. Since the upstate finn was much further from major markets in the Northeast than was its Henderson plant, management decided it was more economical to keep the Henderson plant operating. Freight charges from Henderson to places such as Washington, D.C., and New York City were sibrniticantly cheaper. By the time Laurens closed, its work force had already shrunk to half the size of its early-seventies maximum of over eight hundred. Today the complex still stands. All it furnaces and bottle machines are gone, however,
and huge empty spaces now occupy the once busy tactory floors. Although Laurens Glass has been closed for less than a decade, few know its history or seem to remember its importance to the economy of the upstate.

Much more needs to be done to unearth its rich heritage. Future study will hopefully shed more insight on the early history of Laurens Glass and its founders, the evolving relationship between management and labor, and production changes that turned the smaller upstate town into one of the Southeast's major glass bottle manufacturers. This overview is only a beginning to what is one of South Carolina's most unique industrial stories.
 

OsiaBoyce

Well-Known Member
Dec 8, 2005
4,663
0
Chinquapin Falls, S.C.
Over the years I've met a couple of people who worked at the plant.........not many owing to the fact it is about 75 miles from me.

The did tell me some cool stories as they worked in the paint dept.

The firt runs of the 'LBJ' were dumped as the screens were put on backwards.

The fuel to run the paint driers was trucked in rom Charleston twice a day. To save money some local fuel was used.............................it blackend a days worth of Mnt. Dew bottles.

I woman I met worked in R&D, had a housefull of proto type bottles...........her house burned and she lost them all.

I have a few paper weights that the co. put out somewhere around here......and looking for more.

This jar is the last LGW piece I've have gotten.

It says:
THIS JAR IS DEDICATED TO
THE LAURENS PLANT
EMPLOYEES
1910 TO 1996
PLANT CLOSING
6-22-1996

on the back is
LGW
and 4 more symboles showing company logos of previous owners, and a reference to 'Ball' jars.

 

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