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End of Glass Era

Several companies purchased the Millville glass facilities before the era ended in the late 1900s.

by Vince Farinaccio

In 1900, Whitall Tatum, the Millville glass manufacturer that had established two plants in the city, entered an unofficial competition with Alton, an Illinois glass company to see which factory could produce the largest bottle.

The South Jersey Magazine series “Millville’s First Glasshouse” notes that Alton commenced the competition by producing “a bottle with an approximate capacity of 60 gallons.” Whitall Tatum’s South Millville plant answered with 65-gallon flint glass bottles produced by two of its workers, John Fath and Emil Stanger.

Alton upped the stakes shortly afterward with a 92-gallon bottle, probably satisfied that it had taken things as far as they could go. But Fath and Stanger countered once again, this time producing a bottle with a capacity of 108 gallons, a “record never…equaled or beaten,” according to South Jersey Magazine. This bottle was reputedly on display in 1903 at the St. Louis Exposition and is preserved in a photograph it shares with its creators.

As Whitall Tatum was enjoying this friendly round of competition, a Pittsburgh cork factory was negotiating its way into the 20th century. Armstrong Cork Company had been established in 1860 by Thomas M. Armstrong and John D. Glass, who operated a one-room shop in which they cut cork for bottles. They soon realized the importance of investing in machinery to replace manual operations and by 1891, had become a corporation.

According to South Jersey Magazine, until the start of the 20th century, “Armstrong continued almost entirely in cork stoppers. It was at this time that machines were beginning to replace glassblowers on the production line and other methods of finishing ware were coming to being…Recognizing that cork could be used in other ways, Armstrong began to develop other markets in the business.”

South Jersey Magazine reports that these markets included the automobile industry in which cork gaskets were now being used. Armstrong also began manufacturing cork pipe coverings and “most important of all for the company…the manufacturing of linoleum in 1908 pushed the firm to national prominence.”

As secure as it was during the first decade of the 20th century, Armstrong Cork continued to embrace change. “Keeping abreast of…the times kept the company operating through the lean years of the depression,” the South Jersey Magazine series explains. “Metal caps were added to their line in the early thirties [and]…product lines were expanded in building, insulation, industrial flooring and packaging fields.”

The company was first listed on the Pittsburgh Stock Exchange in 1928 and the New York Stock Exchange in 1935. Now responsible for its shareholders, Armstrong Cork chose to diversify its operations further by entering into glass manufacturing on June 20, 1938 when it purchased both Whitall Tatum plants in Millville.

At the time of the acquisition, Whitall Tatum had been a leading manufacturer of glass insulators used on utility poles for 16 years, according to online sources. The purchase gave Armstrong Cork the opportunity to once again change with the times. The company would continue to grow over the next three decades, even adding the manufacture of furniture to its inventory.

In 1969, Armstrong Cork Company’s Glass Container Division in Millville was sold to Kerr Glass, and another era in the city’s glass manufacturing came to an end. According to Virgil S. Johnson’s book Millville Glass: The Early Days, Kerr Glass was founded in 1903 and, at the time it acquired Armstrong Cork, employed approximately 1,700 workers in its plants in Santa Ana, California; Huntington, West Virginia; Chicago and Plainfield, Illinois; and Sand Springs, Oklahoma.

Millville would not be one of Kerr Glass’ long-standing acquisitions, however. According to online sources, several more companies purchased the former Whitall Tatum facilities before the plants finally ended operation at the close of the 20th century.

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