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A Sparkling Touch of History
Bob Brooke


Tucked away in a modest, three-story Victorian house at 511 Tomlinson Avenue in downtown Moundsville, Ohio, adjacent to the Marshall County Courthouse, are some fine examples of nearly a century of glassmaking by the Fostoria Glass Company. This is the Fostoria Glass Museum, home to the Fostoria Glass Society.

The Fostoria Glass Company began operations in Fostoria, Ohio, on December 15, 1887. Natural gas was a desirable fuel for glassmaking, and during the 1880s, many firms set up shop in northwestern Ohio to take advantage of this newly discovered resource. Fostoria chose to build its first plant in Fostoria, Ohio. The firm also received incentives of $5,000 to $10,000 cash from the city. In the beginning, the factory’s furnace had a capacity of 12 pots, and originally employed 125 workers.

Unfortunately for the area glass factories, Northwest Ohio's gas boom didn’t last long. Gas shortages began during the winter of 1890–91. By April 1891, Fostoria Glass executives decided to move the company to Moundsville, West Virginia, which they chose because of the availability of coal as a fuel for the plant—plus a $10,000-cash incentive offered by the community.

The company's original Moundsville glass works had a furnace that could fire 14 pieces of glass at a time. During the firm’s early years from 1887 through 1909, Fostoria advertised that it manufactured "tableware, colognes, stationers' glassware, and candelabra", as well as inkwells, sponge cups, vases, fingerbowls, and fruit jars. Workers needle etched or wheel cut many of the stemware designs, popular styles during the early 20th century.

During its first 10 years, Fostoria made pressed ware, but early in the 20th century Fostoria realized the importance of developing fine quality blown stemware. Fostoria's best-selling pattern was American, introduced in 1915 and continued until 1983 when the factory finally closed. It’s remarkable 68-year run makes American the longest continually produced pattern in the domestic glassware industry. Fostoria’s early tableware pieces, including these early American items, were generally either needle etched or wheel cut.

By 1920, Fostoria had expanded to a large factory with five furnaces, producing stemware, decorative lamps, container glass, and tableware.

In 1924, Fostoria expanded its product line by introducing colored glassware. The inaugural colors included green, amber, blue, and canary. The colors were a huge hit, and, with the strength of a national advertising campaign behind it, Fostoria products began appearing in influential magazines like “Good Housekeeping” and “Ladies’ Home Journal.”

Colored glassware fit snugly into the market—due to the rise of industry and the workdays it entailed, fewer American families were having luncheons and afternoon teas than in the 19th century. Instead, brunches and after work cocktails had come increasingly into style, and Fostoria’s colored wares were perfect for casual entertaining.

In 1925, Fostoria employed 650 workers and was second only to Cambridge Glass Company. Building on its success, the company expanded its product line to include container glass and decorative lamps, before adding colored stemware and dinnerware in new colors, including orchid (1927); rose and azure (1928); and regal blue, empire green, and burgundy (1933).

Fostoria survived the Great Depression producing Depression Glass, and World War II producing milk glass, and added Chintz (1940), Colony (1940), Romance (1942), and Holly (1942) to its growing line of patterns. These followed on the heels of the distinctive Baroque style, featuring a signature fleur-de-lis in its design, introduced in 1937.

After World War II came to an end, Fostoria continued to introduce new patterns, including Century (1950), Rose (1951), Wedding Ring (1953), and Jamestown (1959).

The firm also began producing two lines of Carnival Glass—Taffeta Lustre, which included bowls, candlesticks, and console sets, and its Brocaded designs, which included Brocaded Acorns, Palms, Summer Garden, and more.

Production peaked in 1950 when Fostoria manufactured over eight million pieces of glass and crystal. During that time, it added the crystal patterns Century (1950), Rose (1951), Wedding Ring (1953), and Jamestown (1959). In the 1960s and 1970s, the company's marketing campaign expanded to include boutiques and display rooms within jewelry and department stores. In addition, Fostoria began publishing "Creating with Crystal," its own consumer direct magazine.

Besides their regular line of blown, etched, and pressure patterns they did custom work, such as providing glass with government seals for Washington officials. All the presidents from Eisenhower through Raegan ordered glassware from them. The museum is a testimony to the company’s determination to survive in a crowded market.

The Fostoria Museum
In 1903, Charles and Birdie Burchinal purchased a large portion of the block bounded by 6th Street and Tomlinson Avenue in Moundsville and began building a house. Unable to finish the house, the Burchinal's sold 12 parcels including the lot and house to William H. and Maria Batson on August 22, 1908.

One year later, Anna Belle Smith or "Ma” Smith as she became known, purchased the house, had it completed, and moved in with her three daughters and two sons-in-law. "Ma" Smith owned the house until 1942, after which it served as offices, a residence, and finally as a Masonic Lodge. The Fostoria Glass Society of America purchased it between 1988 and 1990.

Glass cases filled with sparkling examples of Fostoria’s finest pieces fill the rooms of “Ma” Smith’s former home. Butter dishes, cake plates, relish dishes—all show the wide range of design and styling that made Fostoria Glass so famous.

The company’s crowning achievement was its collection of crystal stemware. Shelf after shelf of these beauties await visitors, including Fostoria’s Primose Florentine and Meadow patterns.

Sunlight filters through showcases of rainbow of colored glass featuring many of Fostoria’s most popular patterns, including blue and red argus pressed glass goblets, candy dishes, and bowls. Fostoria was particularly known for its candy dishes that graced many a coffee table.

Housewives placed their delicious homemade cakes on elevated cake plates of either clear glass or a combination of clear and colored glass.

Jenny Lind by Fostoria is a beautiful milk glass pattern with raised floral and geometric designs surrounding a cameo of Jenny Lind, a Swedish opera star. Ladies loved the Jenny Lind perfume bottles.

Elegance was key in Fostoria’s wisteria and crystal tall Art Deco compote from the 1930s. Delicate etched glass goblets and sherbet glasses added a touch of elegance to dinner tables of the period.

American crystal ice bowl. Fostoria also produced more solid looking American pattern milkglass goblets.

The 1950s and 1960s witnessed elegant cut glass crystal figurines. But as times changed, so did glass styles. The 1960s brought the free-flow styling of Biscayne and the simple, yet elegant styling of round and hexagonal luncheon trays.

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