The displays of American glass show the history of its production in the American colonies and the United States from the 18th century until about 1920. The objects range from a few very rare pieces hand-blown in the earliest factories to mass-produced canning jars and bottles made in the second half of the 19th century, and art glass and cut glass pieces made in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Glassmaking was America’s first industry. A glass workshop was established at Jamestown, Virginia, in 1608. Severe weather and unfavorable economic factors soon forced it to close, however, and until the early 1700s, the colonists imported glass windows and table glass, as well as bottles, mostly from England.
In 1739, Caspar Wistar founded the Colonies’ first successful glass company, which was located in southern New Jersey. A rare wine bottle made by the Wistar factory is on view in the gallery [86.4.196].
Glassmaking in America increased during every decade of the 19th century. In the 1820s, the American invention of pressing made glass tableware, which had previously been purchased solely by the most prosperous citizens, affordable to middle-class households. The gallery includes a hand-operated press from the late 19th century, as well as examples of pressed glass from the earliest period until about 1900.
In the mid-1800s, as American industry and prosperity increased, a taste developed for ornate styles and complex decorations. The gallery features fine examples of 19th- and early 20th-century blown and decorated pieces, Art Glass, glass for lighting (candlesticks, lamps, and light bulbs), and cut and engraved glasses.
Many of the works on display highlight the wares of great American glass manufacturers, including the New England Glass Company (East Cambridge, Massachusetts), the Libbey Glass Company (Toledo, Ohio), and the Bakewell company (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania).