Hazel-Atlas: A Home-Grown Corporation
Joan Weiskircher has a bachelor's degree from West Liberty State College and a master's degree in communication from West Virginia University. For the past fourteen years she has been working with West Virginia Northern Community College's Alumni Association's museum committee, which endeavors to preserve the history of the college's two Wheeling campus buildings, the former Baltimore and Ohio Railroad station and the Hazel- Atlas corporate headquarters building.
The following articles were originally printed in the Upper Ohio Valley Historical Review and are reprinted here with permission of the publisher and authors.
Few area residents realize that the Hazel-Atlas Glass Corporation with its local origins maintained its corporate headquarters in the city of Wheeling but never manufactured glass products in Wheeling. It did, however, manufacture closures-that is, jar lids. In the beginning, production involved only lids for canning jars and later expanded into commercial container closures. These lids might be considered part of "Americana" as they could be found in every home topping off products as varied as Jiff Peanut Butter, Maxwell House Coffee, Vick's Salve, and French's Mustard. Collectors of Avon bottles might be surprised to learn that lids for their unique containers were made in Wheeling. The Hazel-Atlas Glass Corporation was an important part of the local economy as it employed people for both the closure operation and the corporate headquarters. But the influence of this major company extended well beyond the city limits, having manufacturing plants in other parts of West Virginia plus the states of Pennsylvania, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, Oklahoma, Alabama, and California. In its prime the company also maintained sales offices in New York, Baltimore, Chicago, Philadelphia, Rochester, Cleveland, and San Francisco.
In order to tell the story of the Hazel-Atlas Glass Corporation, one needs to understand the developments in glass production and, in particular, commercial packaging that came about at the end of the 1800s and the beginning of the new century. The Hazel-Atlas Corporation grew from very humble beginnings into the largest glass-container manufacturer in the world. This phenomenal growth can be credited to the vision of the founders of the company, and especially to the Brady brothers. Charles N. Brady and C.H. Tallman established a glass company in Wellsburg, West Virginia in 1885, with each partner investing the sum of $600. These two gentlemen were responding to a market need in starting their fledgling company. The only product produced in the beginning was the glass insert used in zinc lids required for canning jar closures. Other glass manufacturers deemed this simple product too insignificant for investment. Brady and Tallman saw an opportunity to make a profit by supplying that product to the Bellaire Stamping Company, a manufacturer of metal goods. This small enterprise received the unusual name of "Hazel" at the suggestion of a feminine member of the Brady household who thought it had a nice sound.
At its inception the Hazel Company operated in rented space, owning no land or buildings. The initial investment of the founders was used to purchase small tanks, lehrs, and simple presses. Batches of glass were purchased from its neighbor, Riverside Glass, of which Charles Brady was then president. The opal glass used for the Mason jar cap liners ultimately became a very important product for the company. The growing company needed larger quarters. Charles Brady, in his leadership role with Riverside Glass, had experimented with using natural gas for fuel in the glass manufacturing process, and he saw that as the future for glass production. As he and Tallman began a search for a new site for their small but growing company, they decided that a location in Washington, Pennsylvania, would be well suited for their needs as it was a center of a large oil and gas territory. The ability to anticipate change and to move the company in new directions characterized the leadership of the Hazel Company, later to become the Hazel-Atlas Glass Corporation.
This new plant in Washington, Pennsylvania, was constructed in 1886, manufacturing its only product of Mason liners, but within a short time, under the direction of the now full-time company president Charles Brady, the company responded to market demands for ointment jars and salve boxes. Until this time these products were made only in flint or amber glass, but the Hazel Company, using its resources, introduced the opal glass medicine container to the world.
A revolution in the glass industry was about to occur when Hazel Glass began its operations in 1885. The revolution was the result of the machine age which invaded all manufacturing processes. Had mechanical developments not evolved, glass manufacturing probably would have remained an art. The introduction of mechanical methods for the cheap and efficient production of glass containers generated new developments in packaging, and this spawned a whole new industry-that of commercial packaging and marketing which ultimately impacted on the everyday life of all Americans.
In the late 1800s most manufactured glass containers were for medicine and liquor. Except for home canning, there was relatively little food packed in glass. There was limited commercial bottling, mostly for ink, shoe polish, kerosene oil, and ammonia. Common household products that today we consider routine had not yet been developed. Beer, carbonated beverages, and milk were just beginning to be sold in glass bottles as developments in the processing of those products made it possible to package and ship those items long distances. Commercial packing of food items was just beginning to evolve. The development of the modem closure used in commercial packaging made it possible to cook foods at high temperatures, preserving and sealing these items so that they would remain fresh and could withstand shipping. In addition to glass food and beverage containers, the production of glass jars and bottles for cosmetic use was also just beginning as the Hazel Glass Company got its start. Those glass containers that existed in this country in the late 1800s were probably imported. Many phenomenal changes were in store in this area of business.
Working conditions changed as machines were invented. Processes that formerly took days and weeks, with work crews working limited schedules, changed as it became possible to operate multiple shifts. There was less and less down time as production increased, oftentimes around the clock. Charles Brady, ever the pioneer, involved himself in the development of operations as he experimented with processes. He pioneered the use of the annealing lehr in the Hazel operation from its inception. He continually sought out potential inventors, believing that a practical machine could and would be built to produce glass containers. He invested money with the Wheeling Mold and Foundry Company, requesting specifically that the company develop such a machine. The founder of Wheeling Mold and Foundry, Charles Blue, developed a machine that was called the Blue Machine. This equipment made it possible commercially to produce glass containers mechanically, finally moving production out of the hand-blown era.
As business expanded and diversified to meet the growing market needs, a new corporation was formed. The Atlas Glass Company was formed for the specific purpose of making fruit jars. (Glass collectors are frequently confused when they discover old canning jars with only the "N' imprinted, not realizing that it pre- dates the "HA" imprint). The Hazel Company continued to manufacture items from opal glass and began expanding its commercial packages to Vaseline jars, ink bottles, shoe polish, jam, and pickle jars.
A special mention must be made here of a Wheeling resident who invented a revolutionary machine for glass manufacturing-the Owens Machine. Mike Owens, a glass blower employed by Hobbs Brockunier Glass of Wheeling, developed a machine that rotated continuously, sucking glass directly from a tank by vacuum and placing it into a blank mold where it was finished. The end product was remarkably consistent in weight, the quality was higher than that produced by hand, and it effectively eliminated five workers, four of whom were highly skilled and highly paid. The machine created an 1800s version of downsizing. This invention was remarkably versatile in that it could make bottles and jars of shapes not possible utilizing older methods. The Libby Glass Company, which sponsored Mike Owens' project, had control over this equipment and that gave the company an advantage in glass production. The Libby Company also benefitted from several other Owens' inventions. The Hazel-Atlas Corporation later acquired the rights to use this equipment but had to pay licensing fees to the Libby Company. The use of the Owens Machine was also restricted by the agreement, giving Libby Glass a definite advantage in the glass container market.
This type of competition spurred the leaders of Hazel Glass and the Atlas Glass companies to continue their development for further automation. W.S. Brady, a brother of Charles Brady, began his own glass business in Clarksburg, West Virginia-Republic Glass Company. The new company made pressed tumblers utilizing a newly developed automatic press. This company later became part of the Hazel-Atlas Corporation. Under the guidance of Charles Brady, the Hazel Company built and patented another press, the Merry-Go-Round, which moved molds on a rotary table, again improving production.
Two important developments for closures evolved at the same time glass production was increasing. These two designs made the tremendous growth in commercial glass packaging possible. Prior to these inventions, corks were the most widely used closure and they were employed for medicines and liquors. Corks were expensive, and so most containers were designed with narrow openings, thus limiting the possible container design. Over a period of time many designs for closures evolved, but the one thing lacking was standardization. Purchased lids often did not fit snugly. The Hazel Glass Company purchased zinc caps for its production of Mason jars. Seeing the opportunity for improvement in quality control and cost savings plus potential profit, another brother of Charles Brady, J.C. Brady, began a small operation producing zinc caps under the name of Wheeling Metal Plant. This company was located in rented space secured from the Wheeling Hinge Company on Nineteenth Street in Wheeling. Later Wheeling Hinge Company ceased operations and Wheeling Metal Company took over the entire space.
As the volume of commercial packing increased, outside forces changed the market and influenced the housewife increasingly to purchase packaged items. Improvements in packing materials for shipping and expanded modes of transportation soon made it possible to ship nationally by rail. With these advances the packaging industry simply "took off," and with it the production of commercial glass containers. In 1902 the Hazel Company and the Atlas Glass Company combined forces along with Republic Glass and the Wheeling Metal Company, and the birth of a new corporate giant occurred. The newly expanded corporation broadened its production to include economical tableware. This tableware made it possible for the humblest of homes to have attractive glass as part of everyday life. However, many challenges lay ahead for the growing company.
The era of the 1920s began with a crash following World War I. Economic disaster affected the entire country in the fall of 1920. The Hazel Atlas Glass Company received more cancellations in October and November of 1920 than it did orders. In December there were few cancellations, but there were also few orders. The depression that followed in 1921 saw prices decline and business was extremely slow. Declines in dollar volume continued for the next eight years. The Prohibition Act had a direct impact on glass companies that produced liquor, wine, and beer bottles. Hazel-Atlas was not directly affected because it did not produce any of these bottles in 1920. The company was indirectly affected, however. Those companies that manufactured this type of product either went out of business or began making other products, items that competed with those produced by Hazel-Atlas. Fierce price competition resulted and this economic environment lasted for years after Prohibition. Many companies folded under the pressure. This competition acted as a stimulus for improving glass production machines and glass production processes. To remain competitive, stronger glass companies purchased other glass companies in order to expand, and Hazel-Atlas followed suit, purchasing several plants in the early 1920s. The stock market crash of 1929 led to an extended depression. Hazel- Atlas survived this period and even experienced some growth, due in part to the fact that the company was in an oversold situation with orders waiting to be filled. By 1930 the Hazel-Atlas Glass Corporation had fifteen glass container plants in the United States and produced much of what is now known as "depression glass."
Even as the manufacturing processes expanded in all directions the business end of the corporation remained in Wheeling. Corporate offices were located in various buildings in downtown Wheeling. As the need for larger space occurred, the company moved several times. Records show that the business operations were located in the West Virginia Customs House (now West Virginia Independence Hall), the Pythian Building, and the Central Union Building. By 1930 the company decided to build its own corporate headquarters and engaged a well- known local architect, Edward Bates Franzheim, to design a building that would meet the growing needs for the company. This new building was constructed at Fifteenth and Jacob Streets for the sum of $200,000. The four-story structure in art deco style was designed so that two additional floors could be added later. The exterior was composed of red brick and sandstone and included an imposing three-story, multi-ton glass entrance portal in the center of the building. The recessed front entrance included a center revolving door with two single glass doors on either side. Dropped bronze light fixtures, hanging from twisted cables, graced the front entrance. The lobby was constructed of Vermont marble and handsome art deco fixtures were found throughout the building. A luxurious board room, adjacent to the executive offices on the fourth floor, reflected the prosperity of the company in 1931.
In researching the history of glass and closure production, one must not overlook the very interesting aspect of working conditions. In its prime the company had 5,000 employees, many of whom were local residents. Some remain, and they give testimony to the changing labor scene. The majority of employees at the closure plant were women. They worked on the presses, feeding tin into the machines, in the packing department, and in other areas where tasks did not require great physical strength. The work was dirty and somewhat tedious as it was repetitive. Those men involved in production worked in the machine shop or paint shop where the tinplate was painted. Men were employed in areas where physical strength was required or special skills were needed. There were no black employees in the closure plant until the law requiring desegregation occurred in the mid 1950s.
Shift work was the norm, and all, regardless of position or seniority, worked as dictated by management. The company policy was to employ only those of age 18 or older, but tales are told of some who were able to "fudge" their age and begin employment at 16 or 17. The company policy also decreed that married women could not work for the company, and those who wed while in its employ had two weeks after their wedding before they were "retired." This policy did not change until World War II. A starting wage in 1933 was thirty cents per hour, and while this was not considered an especially good wage, it was deemed steady-a very desirable goal in that depression era. Unionization in 1937 made a major difference for the employees. The company felt threatened by the C.I.O. and was greatly relieved when the A.F.L. was established as the union in control. For the first time employees were given a voice in the operations. Seniority now mattered and the longest employed were given steady daytime shifts. Federal law now provided coverage under workers compensation and unemployment insurance, but the union increased benefits for the workers by negotiating for company- paid insurance.
The corporate headquarters was considered a very desirable place in which to work, especially for women. Those with training in business and secretarial skills considered themselves lucky to be employed by Hazel-Atlas. Traditionally a forward-thinking company, management installed the latest equipment in the offices when the building was completed. Tabulating work was transacted on the first floor, west end of the building. The second and third floors housed general offices for the treasurer, auditor, accounting, and bookkeeping departments. Space was also provided for research, development, and design on the east end of the third floor, and the top management offices were located on the fourth floor. Wages were very low by today's standards, but employees had other benefits that were considered important. One fringe benefit allowed employees to purchase dinnerware manufactured by the company at minimal cost. An entire set of dishes could be purchased for as little as $5. These glass items manufactured by the company were on display in cases located throughout the building.
Discrimination against married women also ruled in the corporate offices. This did not change until World War H, when men were drafted and women were needed for factory work. This precedent then required that the same rule be applied to those employed in company offices. Also, there was an obvious bias against minorities when one reviews the roster of management names. Only those of English or German descent held those positions. Rarely were black workers employed, and then only in menial jobs. A separate restroom facility was provided (in the utility room along with mops and brooms) for the one Negro cleaning lady in the corporate office building. Despite some rather negative working conditions, loyalty to the company continues to be evident when one interviews former employees.
From the very beginning the Hazel-Atlas Corporation was an innovator, blazing trails in the manufacturing world. A list of "firsts" includes the following:
The Hazel-Atlas Corporation faced many challenges over its history, including the reversals of depressions in 1920 and 1929, reversals caused by Prohibition, challenges from other glass manufacturers, and numerous difficulties with shipping, but the company continued to grow and thrive. Only when the company lost its vision and ceased to look to the future did its fortunes begin to decline. The textbook answer attributes the demise of this once great company to anti-trust problems that arose when it became part of Continental Can Company 13 September 1956. However, those who worked in its employ tell a very different tale. They tell of company managers who became complacent, took large profits in salaries, and failed to re-invest in research and development. Founder Charles N. Brady had a dream - "Glass containers cheaper than tin cans." Unfortunately that dream faded and little remains of a once prosperous and thriving major corporation that made its headquarters in Wheeling.
Products Manufactured by the
Hazel-Atlas Glass Corporation
If you are older than fifty years of age, products packaged in glass containers manufactured by Hazel- Atlas Glass Corporation improved the quality of your life. These products ranged from canning jars your mother used for preserving foods; glass tumblers you drank from each day; catsup bottles purchased at the grocery; dairy creamers served with coffee in your favorite restaurant; mayonnaise, pickles, and baby food sold in jars which you and your children consumed; Vaseline for your "boo-boos;" Vick's Salve which your mother rubbed on your chest when you had the croup; Carters Ink which you used in your fountain pen; glue or shoe polish which you often used; and Ponds Cream which your mother bought to keep her skin soft and lovely. In addition to the products that were part of your everyday life, it is very probable that your dinner was prepared and served in dishes made by Hazel-Atlas. Leftovers from your dinner would have been stored in glassware that Hazel-Atlas made for refrigerators, and if your family was somewhat sophisticated and served after-dinner drinks, the alcohol used for mixed drinks could have been bottled in Hazel-Atlas decanters. Ask anyone older than fifty years of age and most likely they will have memories of using dishes from the following list of patterns of Hazel-Atlas dinnerware produced in the 1920s and 1930s:
Florentine No. 1 and 2
Poppy No. 1 and 2
A sample list of glass containers
manufactured by Hazel-Atlas Glass
Glue and paste bottles
Baby food jars
Vick's Vaporub jars
Wine and liquor bottles
Peanut butter jars
Jelly and jam tumblers
Chipped beef jars
Mineral water bottles
Cold cream jars
Kerosene oil jugs
Shoe polish bottles
Soft drink bottles
Bibliography and Sources
Algeo, J.S. "A Story of the Hazel-Atlas Glass Company" (Unpublished manuscript, 1956). This is the main source for the corporate history. Algeo was district manager for the Pennsylvania plants of Hazel-Atlas. A photocopy of this manuscript is in the museum of the West Virginia Northern Community College Alumni Association.
Biesterfeldt, Janice. "Modemtone Depression Glass Pattern," The Antiques Journal, October, 1978.
Brady, J.C. "Hazel-Atlas Glass Company: Tall Oaks from Little Acorns Grow," West Virginia Review, VI, No. 6 (March, 1929), 189.
Burch, Geneva M. "Images: Reflections of the Hazel-Atlas Glass Company" (Unpublished Manuscript, 1999).
Comins, Linda. "Hazel-Atlas," The Intelligencer (Wheeling), 10 October 1999.
"Glass Containers: A Pamphlet Dealing with the History and Manufacturing of Glass Containers," Hazel- Atlas Division of Continental Can Co., Inc.
"Hazel-Atlas Company Employees Moving into New $200,000 Home on Fifteenth Street," Wheeling Register, 26 April 193 1.
"Hazel-Atlas to Start Work Soon on Big Office Building," Wheeling Register, 31 August 1930.
Measell, James S. "Depression Glass," Glass Collector's Digest, 1989.
National Register of Historic Places (NPS Form 10-900), "The Hazel-Atlas Glass Company." Unpublished application form for historic designation.
Vavra, A. and C. Julian. From Glass ... to Classes: The Hazel- Atlas Glass Company and West Virginia Northern Community College (Wheeling: West Virginia Northern Community College, 1992).
"What Ever Happened to Hazel- Atlas?" Glass Collector's Digest, 1986.
Worthington, Monroe. "The Mason Jar," Wheeling News-Register, 23 November 1958.
Klemm, Marjorie. Secretary, corporate offices.
May, Martin. Machinist employed in the closure plant.
Rowley, Helen. Secretary, corporate offices and widow of Leonard Rowley, former employee of the closure plant.
Schramm, George. Controller, corporate offices
Weitzel, Vera. Clerical employee, corporate office
West Virginia Historical Society
West Virginia History Center