Sunday, March 10, 2013

The Boston & Sandwich Glass Company


Boston & Sandwich Glass Company
Although I have lived on Cape Cod nearly all my life, there is still a lot of history I don’t know, a lot of sites I’ve never seen, and many museums I have yet to visit. Just recently I had time to look into one of these areas of ignorance by visiting the Sandwich Glass Museum. Although its one of the most well known historic stops on the Cape, I had actually never been to the Glass Museum. Nor had I ever really looked into the part Cape Cod played in the Industrial Revolution. During my visit I learned more than I ever knew about glass and the contributions the town of Sandwich made to the development of glass making technology in the United States and around the world.

Of course, one cannot look into the development of glass making in Sandwich without first attempting to understand its founder, Deming Jarves. According to Harriet Buxton Barbour in Sandwich: The Town That Glass Built, Deming Jarves was born to English parents in Boston in December of 1790. Jarves grew up in Boston surrounded by the developing post-Revolution industry of New England. He became involved in the very competitive world of glass making when he took a job as a clerk for the Boston Porcelain and Glass Company soon after his marriage in 1815.
Deming Jarves
The company continually suffered from management problems and changed hands several times until it was ready to go under. According to Barbour, in 1817 Boston Porcelain and Glass was willing to dispose of all its property. Luckily for Jarves, he was in a position to profit. With several of his relatives, he was able to purchase and become the active manager of the New England Glass Company of East Cambridge, which rose from the ashes of the old Boston Porcelain and Glass.

For a time Jarves threw himself into his new passion. He studied the ancients like Strabo, Vergil, and Pliny. He learned everything he could concerning the ancient art of glass making in Egypt and Mesopotamia. Then he began to pair this knowledge with the miraculous inventions of the newly developing industrial world. Between 1821 and 1833, Jarves registered for two patents, each creating new and easier methods to produce glass.

However, in 1823 Deming’s father died, leaving him a $25,000 inheritance. Barbour explains that Jarves began to question his role at New England Glass. He did not want to spend the best years of his life developing his business and passion for partners who were only interested in profit. What Jarves wanted was a legacy for himself and his growing family. With his new inheritance, he had his chance.

According to Frank W. Chipman, in The Romance of Old Sandwich Glass, Jarves had previously spent time hunting in the marshes of the Cape. During one hunting trip he began to conceive of a new idea. He believed that the location of and resources in the Sandwich area showed an abundance of untapped raw industrial potential. According to most resources, he even believed he could use the many acres of marsh grass around the town for packing material.

In April of 1825, the buildings that would become the glass factory were erected. Chipman describes several tenement buildings for the workers, a butcher shop, a general store, and a barn. In addition, he states that the original factory was only one small furnace. This area was eventually nicknamed Jarvesville, after Deming himself. On July 4, 1825, the first pot of glass was made using sand from the near the factory.

However, according to many resources, including Chipman, Barbour, and information provided by the Sandwich Glass Museum, Jarves did not choose Sandwich for its miles and miles of Cape Cod sand. In order to make crystal clear glass, one needs pure quartz silica. As was demonstrated to me in the museum, Cape sand is rather impure, as it contains traces of iron and other elements. When blown into glass, it has a yellowish tinge to it. Kinda interesting looking, but not what most people wanted.
The yellowish rod on the right was made using Cape Sand
Instead, it was the town’s position near a navigable creek and harbor, its inexpensive land, and its abundance of trees for fuel that convinced Jarves that Sandwich could be a profitable place to grow a business. Knowing that the Cape sand would not do for creating fine quality glass, Jarves shipped in sand from New Jersey and New York. Eventually he purchased land in the Berkshires from which he imported nearly 100% pure quartz silica.

In the early days of the factory Jarves hired glass blowers from England and Ireland. He even tempted many away from his former company in Cambridge. In time locals became apprenticed to these original masters and were able to advance from journeyman to master for themselves. This system provided a steady stream of native employable talent, which soon began to develop a purely American style of fine glass products distinguished from its worldwide competitors.

However, at the onset of his enterprise Jarves found that he needed additional funding to support his vision. Reluctantly, he agreed to form a corporation with other businessmen, including his wife’s wealthy cousin. These men then funneled hundreds of thousands of dollars into improving and enlarging the Sandwich facilities. The new corporation did provide Jarves with the funds he needed. However, in the process he was also giving up sole control of his new company. In hindsight, this seems like it was something he was not totally willing to do. Either way, with the creation of the new corporation, the Boston and Sandwich Glass Company was born.

With the improvements created through his new funding, the new Boston and Sandwich Glass Factory grew to acquire world wide fame as a quality manufacturer. According to Lenore Wheeler Williams in Sandwich Glass, by 1853 the factory had a yearly production of $600,000 in glass plates, cups, lamps, and salt cellars. In addition, Williams states the business grew from employing 70 to employing 500 workers during the same time period.

Furthermore, the town of Sandwich became a center of commerce. Even business unrelated to the glass company prospered due to the consistent wages earned by the glassworkers and their families. By 1840, according to Chipman, Sandwich glass had become so popular that orders came from Montreal, New York, Philadelphia, and even the White House. Soon millions of dollars in orders were being fill from around the world.

Although many pieces of Sandwich glass are classically blown glass, during the mid 1820’s, the factory began to experiment with and became famous for glass pressing. This method required a lever operated machine to press hot glass into a specific mold through the use of a plunger. Although sources agree that Jarves did not invent the pressing process, his work at the Sandwich factory improved the process.

In Sandwich Glass: The History of the Boston and Sandwich Glass Company, Ruth Web Lee describes how Jarves was inspired to experiment with pressing in 1827 when a Sandwich blacksmith asked him to produce a glass tumbler. Jarves first believed this could not be created from glass, because of the restrictions inherent to the art of blown glass. The blacksmith wondered why glass could not be pressed into a mold to create any shape desired.

By 1827, according to Lee and Barbour, glass pressing technology had already been developed in Europe. However, these methods were in their infancy and not available in the United States. Shaping glass using a mold was common practice by this time, but required the labor of a glass blower and mold cracker. Still, Jarves began to believe it was possible to create the design requested by the blacksmith through glass pressing.

He spent weeks building and experimenting in the carpentry shop of the factory. His employees were curious about his designs, but doubted he would succeed. However, he finally emerged, ready to test his machine. Jarves watched as a glass gatherer brought a molten gob of hot glass and dropped it into his new mold. He pressed the plunger down and created the glass factory’s first pressed glass tumbler. Though the item was by no means perfect, it was passable enough to agitate his glass blowers, who now feared for their jobs. In a letter reproduced by Ruthe Lee in Sandwich Glass, Jarves writes:
"The glass blowers on discovery that I had succeeded in pressing a piece of glass, were so enraged for fear their business would be ruined by the new discovery, that my life was threatened, and I was compelled to hide from them for six weeks before I dared venture in the street or in the glass house, and for more than six months there was danger of personal violence should I venture in the street after nightfall."
With one experiment, Jarves had revolutionized the production of glass in the United States, and had upset many people in doing so. By December of 1828, Jarves had patented his new pressing method. It would take roughly ten years before a manufacturer in England could also create a pressed glass product that was more than a shallow dish.
Early Glass Press

Jarves' Original Tumbler
Although the fears of the Sandwich glass blowers were understandable, the creation of the glass press was not as threatening as they imagined. The simple press machine could not mix the glass or create new recipes for color. In addition, the machine opened a niche for mold-makers. These artists were responsible for creating the designs that eventually helped Sandwich Glass stand out from its rivals.

For a businessman, Jarves also seemed to be a true humanitarian. Because of this, the factory became a real part of the Sandwich community during its existence. In Sandwich Glass, Lee relates several examples of Jarves’ considerate welfare toward his employees. During the economic crisis of 1840, his tenants in Jarvesville lived free of rent. When the furnace was undergoing repairs and his men could not work, he continued their pay regardless, though at a quarter of their regular rate. The care he took with his child labor force was unusual for the time. He insisted the children attend the village school and encouraged them to apprentice in their spare time. He even gave the children a half dollar every Fourth of July to buy fireworks.

In addition, Chipman relates several stories as evidence that the factory was not simply a business that employed locals. He states that every Christmas, Jarves donated a barrel of flour to the widows of his former employees. The factory allowed local children to use their worn out parts to create box cars. In addition, Jarves encouraged local children afflicted with whooping cough to come to factory to spend an hour a day inhaling the fumes in their tar room. Of course, this was probably more detrimental then helpful, yet the spirit was there I suppose.
Map of Sandwich 1884 - Showing Jarvesville and Factory
Of course, along with the influx of new comers to Sandwich, came conflicts between locals and residents of the factory areas known as Jarvesville. Knowing how some modern Cape Codders can be very selective of the company they keep, I can only imagine how magnified this was in the mid 1800’s. According to Barbour, in 1830, three employees from Jarvesville were arrested and found guilty of intentionally and rather horrifically killing the cow of a local farmer. Barbour also relates several assaults and thefts attributed to the residents of Jarvesville. The factory village was earning a reputation for rowdiness and alcohol abuse that many residents felt had begun to taint their own town.

Furthermore, the arrival of so many Irish employees to Jarvesville brought the feared religion of Catholicism to Sandwich. To the mostly protestant Cape Codders, Catholicism must have seemed very foreign, with its ancient traditions, and reverence of the Pope. According to church records from Corpus Christi Parish in Sandwich, the first Catholic Church was erected on Jarves Street in 1830 and dedicated to St. Peter. Although there were only 70 parishioners at the time, the factory quickly attracted many more.

Over time, the residents of Jarvesville began to leave the factory village as they married the daughters of Sandwich residents. According to Barbour, the only residents that tended to remain in the tenant buildings were those who could not afford to move and the Catholics who wished to remain near their church. Many of these building remain in the area of Sandwich near the Boardwalk.
The Boston and Sandwich Glass Company continued to be a profitable venture for Jarves, his board of directors, and his stockholders. However, within records provided in Sandwich Glass, one can see a growing tension between Jarves and those he was accountable to. Both Jarves and his board of directors were begging to contend for control of the company.

All resources agree that Deming Jarves ran the company until 1858, and that he resigned due to a dispute with the company’s board of directors. What many sources do not explain is that he had submitted several letters of resignation going all the way back to the 1830’s. In addition what caused his final parting with the company was more multi-layered than a simple dispute.

Deming had several children he wished to include in his enterprise. One of his sons, George Jarves, operated a store in Boston associated with his father’s glassworks. One of the board of directors wished to sever any connection George Jarves had with the Sandwich company. He claimed that since 1854, the association with George’s store had cost Boston and Sandwich Glass upwards of $50,000 a year. This accusation caused stress between both the Jarves men and the board of directors.

Furthermore, according to Ruth Web Lee, labor issues and lack of profits seemed to be eroding the confidence the board had in the abilities of Jarves. In June of 1856, the board unanimously voted to reduce the pay of several employees, including Jarves, by ten percent until the stockholders begin to see profits. It seems as though Jarves was actually part of this meeting and decision, but it is unclear how much power and authority he had at this point. His pay was cut once again in November of 1857.

If one examines the meeting notes provided by Lee in Sadnwich Glass, it seems apparent that over the course of the final years in which Jarves was employed at Boston and Sandwich Glass, the board of directors was continually voting to remove more and more decision making power from him. Jarves once again submitted a letter of resignation, and in June of 1858, the board of directors voted this time to accept it.

The accepted resignation of Deming Jarves and soon afterward, the severing of George Jarves from association with the company, culminated in the complete exile of any member of the Jarves family from Boston and Sandwich Glass. Although the factory continued on without him, according to Lee:
"The most interesting glass produced at the factory was made for the most part, while Deming Jarves was the guiding genius. The most revolutionary changes in the art of glass making occurred while his hand was at the helm."
After leaving the company, Jarves opened a rival business nearby, which he called Cape Cod Glass Works. The new factory was moderately successful, well run, and up to date. Several employees followed him from Boston and Sandwich Glass because he offered them better pay. Deming began the new business hoping to leave a legacy to his son John. Unfortunately John Jarves died in May of 1863, leaving Deming with the business. Jarves continued to run the Cape Cod Glass Works, but showed very little passion for the business after his son’s death.

According to Barbour, in 1865 Jarves updated his older pamphlet, Reminiscences of Glass-Making. In examining his writing, it is apparent, as noted by Lee and Barbour, that Jarves still held a grudge following his separation from Boston and Sandwich Glass. He devoted very little of the book to his former business and even goes as far as to praise its rivals in Pennsylvania and Boston, even in the area of pressed glass, which Jarves had revolutionized. Sadly, I found if one is looking for history on the Boston and Sandwich Glass Company, the writing of Deming Jarves is not the place to seek it.

Jarves remained sole owner of Cape Cod Glass Works, attempting to avoid the mistakes he had made at his previous two businesses. Hearing that Deming Jarves was ill and that his family did not wish to continue running the company, the superintendant at the Cape Cod Works was asked to extinguish the fires. According to Lee and Barbour, in April of 1869, the same day the fires were extinguished, Deming Jarves passed away at his home in Boston.

The Boston and Sandwich Glass Company continued to have labor difficulties. By 1866, according to Lee, the workers were seeking an increase in pay, or threatening a work stoppage. Unfortunately, this was a poor time for the company to increase the pay of its employees. Warehouse fires had destroyed valuable stock and The Panic of 1873 caused an economic crisis in the US and abroad. Rather than an increase in salary, the factory workers saw a decrease in pay by 1877.

In addition, new glass companies were being created in the Midwest. These companies had easier access to coal and dominated markets in the south through an ease in transpiration provided by major river systems To compound all these troubles, the workmen at Sandwich held a short strike and stopped working. With this development, the board of directors began to entertain cutting their losses and getting out.

Once again, the factory in Sandwich was caught up in large national events. On top of labor issues, the powerful movement toward unionization, workmen’s organizations like the Knights of Labor, and events like the Haymaket Affair all began to affect the little town of Sandwich.

With the very visible management style of Deming Jarves now long gone, the employees at Sandwich began to feel disconnected from those running the glass works. Many workers in Sandwich had joined the American Flint Glass Workers’ Union of North America. Still, many refused to unionize. According to Chipman and Barbour, the management in Sandwich made it clear that they would continue to hire both union and non-union workers.

According to Barbour, in December of 1887, in the face of shrinking profits and increased competition, the management at Sandwich gave the factory workers a take-it-or-leave-it choice. The workers were ordered to produce more products per shift, in a work speed-up. The employees would recieve the same pay, but needed to produce more. No management attempted to explain the company’s situation to its workers. The workmen, who knew that millions of dollars in orders were still being filled by the factory, probably did not understand that the company was losing an ever increasing amount of money.

In reality, I suppose the workers were given a choice. Either speed up production or strike and let the furnace be extinguished for good. However, many employees thought this was a bluff by management. In all fairness, it seems pay rates at Sandwich were about standard in comparison with other glass workers in the East. The workers in Sandwich, however, had also seen the successes of glassworker strikes in other companies. In the face of what they thought was true and right, the Sandwich workers called a strike in January of 1888. In response, management simply let the furnace burn out as promised. Thus ended the grand tradition of the glass industry in Sandwich, not with a bang, but with the dying fizzle of an untended furnace.

Although others attempted to re-open the factory doors soon after, their enterprise was short lived. Eventually, the talented glass workers moved to other more profitable locations and the factory fell into disrepair. Chipman mentions the eye-sore that was the rotting body of the factory. On that spot today, nothing remains but cement blocks and a plaque commemorating past greatness.
What remained of the factory mid 1900's


What remains of the Boston & Sandwich Glass Company March 2013
 I fully enjoyed visiting the Sandwich Glass Museum, researching the history of this industry, and visiting the now nearly empty sites of Boston and Sandwich Glass and Cape Cod Glass. The museum is located on 129 Main Street. Though not the original site of the factory, it offers daily glass blowing and pressing demonstrations, and displays hundreds of pieces of Sandwich glass products. The wife and I even purchased our own replica of an original Sandwich glass design made at the museum.
Our own new piece of Cape Cod history
As I have said before, I really wish this local history was taught at the high school level. When learning about the Industrial Revolution, one generally teaches about the mills in Lowell, though not the factories and revolutionary advancements made in Sandwich. In addition to learning about Robber Barons like Carnegie, perhaps the more humanitarian approach of Jarves could also be instructive. When learning about labor organizations like the Knights of Labor and events like the Haymarket Affair, one does not generally focus on its local effects, as in the strike at the Sandwich factory. This is truly a shame, as I think it would demonstrate to our local students that their towns were deeply affected by, but also major players in, our nation’s great history.

No comments:

Post a Comment