The first successful glassworks in America was established in 1739 by Caspar Wistar in southern New Jersey. There are no positively identified “South Jersey” pieces remaining.
Henry Stiegel established three glassworks in Pennsylvania. The first made bottles and window glass from 1763. The second added some tableware to the range from 1765. The third, from 1769, was the first American glassworks to specialise in tableware. Steigal produced copies of Bohemian glass for sale to the local Pennsylvania “Dutch” (who were actually German migrants) and copies of English glass for sale in New York and Boston. Steigel’s glass is almost indistinguishable from the European originals but proved too expensive. His glassworks closed in 1774.
Despite many attempts, There was little important glass production in America from this time until after 1824. In that year, glass was given tariff protection. This was increased in 1828 and 1832.
From about 1815 to 1830, “blown-three-mould” glass was popular. This was imitation cut glass produced in a three- part mould.
The first successful flint-glass factory was Bakewells, established by Benjamin Page and Thomas Bakewell in Pittsburgh in 1809. The factory made English-style cut and engraved glass. In 1825, John Bakewell obtained a patent on machine pressing of glass. By the middle of the century his machine had made mass production possible. By 1852, the price of glass had dropped so much that its consumption had increased ten-fold.
These machines made unlimited designs possible and production gradually moved away from the simple geometric patterns of cut glass. Popular motifs included classical and gothic ornaments, stylised and naturalistic flowers, local and national emblems and geometric patterns.
As the machine came to dominate commercial glassware, hand- blown “folk glass” became popular. Different regional characteristics evolved. In the Midwest, new shapes were developed and decorated mainly with pattern moulded ribs, flutes, swirls and diamonds. In the East, commercial shapes were usually followed but pattern moulds were rarely used. Instead the piece was decorated by applying glass in various patterns – the most characteristic being the lily pad.
One style of glassware which became very popular in America was “Mary Gregory’. This was hand-blown glass decorated with a predominantly white enamelled figure of a child or children (or sometimes an angel). It is thought to have originated in Czechoslavakia in the 1860s. However, Mary Gregory was a glass decorator at the Sandwich Glass Works in Boston. From the 1870s to the early 1900a, the style became very popular in England and on the Continent as well as in America.
In the 1890s, Louis Comfort Tiffany developed a method of producing hand-blown iridescent glass, achieved using a tin chloride coating, from which he made Art Nouveau works, notably lamps.
In 1908, Harry Northwood and Frank Fenton developed a technique for mass producing a cheap iridescent glass, called “carnival glass”. Carnival glass has a thin metallic coating sprayed on to the surface after all moulding and hand working has been completed. Carnival glass was popular until about 1930.