WVNCC | West Virginia Northern Community College
The former headquarters of the Hazel Atlas Corporation was the original home for West Virginia Northern Community College when it was formed in 1972. The building is located at the corner of 15th and Jacob Streets in downtown Wheeling. The space was formerly occupied by West Liberty State College as a downtown campus site after the Continental Can Company, owner of Hazel Atlas, ceased operations and donated the building to the college in 1966.
The Alumni Association of WV Northern in the mid1980s, acting as historians for the college, began collecting glassware produced by the company. Late in the 1990s, the collection was expanded under the direction of Board Member, Shirley Miller, and the Alumni Association now possesses approximately 1,000 pieces of Hazel Atlas glass. The glassware has been displayed periodically. The following document is the result of research completed on the history of the Hazel Atlas Corporation by Alumni Association Officer, Joan Weiskircher.
Hazel Atlas – A Home-grown Corporation
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 only involved 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, Vicks Salve and French’s Mustard. Collectors of Avon bottles might be surprised to learn that the 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 Hazel Atlas Glass Corporation in the 1920-1930 era, 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 the 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.
The Hazel Company, at its inception, 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 in using natural gas for fuel in the glass manufacturing process and he saw that as the future for glass production. As he and Mr. 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 characterizes 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 only made in flint or amber glass but the Hazel Company, utilizing 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 it operations in 1885. That 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 developments in packaging and this spawned a whole new industry – that of commercial packaging and marketing which ultimately impacted on the every day life of all Americans.
In the late 1800s most glass containers manufactured 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 distance. Commercial packing of food items was just beginning to evolve. The development of the modern 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 as well.
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 downtime 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 used of the annealing lehr in the Hazel operation from it 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 to commercially 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 “A” imprinted, not realizing that it predates the HA imprint.) The Hazel Company continued to manufacture items from opal glass and began expanding its commercial packages to include Vaseline jars, inkbottles, 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 Brockumier 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 benefited 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 the 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. Lids purchased often did not fit snuggly. The Hazel Glass Company purchased zinc caps for it 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, located on 19th 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 to increasingly purchase packaged items. Improvements in packing materials for shipping and expanded modes of transportation soon made it possible to ship by rail nationally. 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. Many challenges lay ahead for the growing company.
The era of the 1920s began with a crash following WWI. 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 Corporation 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 1920’s.
The 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 the downtown area. 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 Corporation 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.
The new building was constructed at 15th and Jacob Streets for the sum of $200,000. The four-story structure in Arts 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 style fixtures were found throughout the building. A luxurious boardroom, 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 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 18 years but tales are told of some who were able to “fudge” their age and began employment at 16 or 17. The company policy also decreed that married women could not work for the company and those who were wed while in its employ had two weeks after their wedding before they were “retired.” This policy did not change until WWII.
A starting wage in 1933 was .30 cents per hour, and while this were 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 CIO and was greatly relived when the AFL 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 II 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’s offices. Also, there was an obvious bias against minorities when one reviews the roster of management names. Only those of English or German decent held those positions. Rarely were black residents 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. In spite of same 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” include the following:
- First to use natural gas to produce glass
- First to produce opal glass ointment and salve jars
- Developed and first to use continuous glass tanks
- First to make flint glass fruit jars
- First to sell opal jars to medicinal packers
- Patented first machine to make jars, - the Blue Machine
- Patented first pressed glass machine – Merry-Go-Round Press
- Provided leadership for standardization for container and closure sizes
- Set precedents in marketing through packaging and shipping innovations
- Produced first mayonnaise, pickle and baby food jars
- ·nstrumental in development of safe food processing
The Hazel Atlas Corporation faced many challenges over its history, including the reversals of depressions (1920 & 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. 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 reinvest 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 forty-five 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 your and your children consumed, Vaseline for your “boo-boos”, Vicks 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 the Hazel Atlas Glass Company. 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.
Patterns of Hazel Atlas Dinnerware Produced in the 1920s–1930s
Pattern & Year Produced
Colonial Block 1920’s - 1930’s
Ribbon 1930 - 1932
New Century 1930 - 1935
Ovide 1930 - 1935
Fruits 1931 - 1953
Florentine No. 1 & 2 1932 - 1953
Poppy No. 1 & 2 1934 - 1936
Royal Lace 1934 - 1942
Moderntone/Wedding Band 1934 - 1942
Newport/Hairpin 1936 - 1940
Aurora 1937 - 1938
Starlight 1938 - 1940
Cloverleaf 1930 - 1936
A sample list of glass containers manufactured by Hazel Atlas Glass
Glue and paste bottles Shoe polish bottles
Peanut butter jars Vick’s Vaporub jars
Cold cream jars Chipped beef jar
Syrup jars Vaseline jars
Beer bottles snuff bottles
Crisco jars Medicine jars
Baby food jars Soft drink bottles
Ink bottles Wine and liquor bottles
Kerosene oil jugs Mineral water bottles
Mayonnaise jars Pickle jars
Jelly and jam tumblers Medicine bottles
© All Rights Reserved. J. D. Weiskircher.