Our state’s many glass companies further illustrate the idea that beauty and utility need not be opposing ideals. From window glass and simple green glass bottles to the sophisticated art glass of today, more than 500 factories have manufactured glass in West Virginia throughout the state’s history. West Virginia was attractive to glass manufacturers because it offered great quantities of silica sand, stone and other chemical compounds necessary to produce glass and vast reserves of natural gas for fuel. The state’s natural reserves, paired with its network of rivers and railroads for the transportation of raw materials and finished wares, made West Virginia an ideal location to spawn the glass industry.
Today’s process hearkens back to 1827, when New England glassmaker Deming Jarves invented the press-molding machine. Using this device, glassmakers pressed molten glass into an iron mold with a plunger. The mold gave the glass both its shape and decorative pattern, eliminating the need for hand design. After 1900, glass factories began making their own molds on site, allowing them to create patterns unique to specific companies. Mold makers then became the skilled artisans that hand decorators had once been, and an industry was born.
Fenton Art Glass, the largest handmade colored glass manufacturer in the United States, celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2005. This family-owned Williamstown facility has a gift shop and museum, and offers free tours featuring glassblowers at work.