by Willard Kolb

Contemporary Carnival Glass Web Site

(News-Register, June 4, 1995)


 Capt. Ed Muhieman was the factory manager of the Crystal Glass Co. in Bridgeport during the late 1800s.

In 1897 when a group of Pittsburgh businessmen began buying table glassware companies to form a co-operative known as the National Glass Works, Muhieman sold his shares of stock in the Crystal Glass Co. and left the company.

By 1901, Muhleman had decided to form a company and build a new glass factory.

On Nov. 7, 1901, five Wheeling and Bellaire businessmen - J.E. Vance, Lawrence E. Sands, Morris Horkheimer, Muhleman and James F. Anderson filed affidavits with West Virginia Secretary of State William Dawson to incorporate a company to be known as the Imperial Glass Co., a corporation of the state of West Virginia. On Nov. 1 4, 1 901, the incorporation was approved. J.E. Vance became the first president of the corporation.

The factory was to be built on a piece of land in Bellaire, to be donated by the Bellaire Board of Trade. It would be "the largest glass factory in the world under one roof." It would be financed with $500,000 in capital stock or 5,000 shares at $100 par value on subscriptions of 10 percent.

The architect was Mr.Forney of Wheeling. The prime contractor was Rosser and Castoe of Bellaire, who were to do all excavating, concrete and brick work. The building of the melting tanks and furnaces was contracted to Nicholis and Mathews of Welisburg, and the remaining woodwork, plastering, painting and roof were contracted to G.S. Boak.

As soon as the contract with Rosser and Castoe was signed on Jan. 15, 1902, work began. It would take two years to complete the factory, owing to delays caused by disagreements between Rosser and Castoe and Imperial over changes that were made as construction progressed.

The original factory would have 14 pot furnaces and one 14-ton continuous tank. Production began from furnace No. 1 on Jan. 27, 1904, and the second furnace began producing on March 24, 1904.

The first large sale of glass was to F.W. Woolworth Co., which remained one of Imperial's largest customers for the next 20 years or so. Imperial's other early production was for the "mass" markets to which they supplied utilitarian ware such as jelly glasses, tumblers, table ware items, etc. to five-and-10-cent retailers.

Imperial's markets began to change drastically around 1910 as the machine-made glasshouses began to dominate the sales to "mass" markets. Just prior to this, in 1909, Imperial entered the iridescent glass market-ware which is known today as "Carnival Glass."

They became one of the five largest producers of this ware for the next decade or so. (Carnival Glass would be re-introduced in the 1960s.) Soon after Imperial introduced Carnival Glass, it began production of pressed replicas of cut glass under the trade name "NUCUT."

In 1923, Imperial - in trying to keep up with market trends - introduced its famous "Free Hand" ware. This ware was very expensive for the times and did not sell well.

By 1930, Imperial was showing a deficit of almost a quarter of a million dollars. With sales down drastically, Imperial was unable to gain capital.

On Feb. 28, 1931,Tri State Pipe Co. filed its petition in common pleas court to have a receiver appointed and to sell Imperial's assets and property to satisfy its creditors . J. M. Dubois was named receiver.

In May of 1931, Imperial revealed its plan of re-organisation. This consisted of changing the name, selling stock to raise capital, forming a holding company - Domestic Investment Corp. - and leasing a factory and equipment to continue operations.

On July 20, 1931, the property and assets were auctioned and bought by J. Ralph Boyd, secretary/ treasurer of the company, for $150,000. Imperial immediately filed articles of incorporation in the state of Ohio and on Aug. 6, 1931, became the Imperial Glass Corporation rather than the Imperial Glass Company, a corporation of the state of West Virginia.

On Aug. 10, 1931, Earl Newton, who represented Imperial at his place of business in Chicago, was named president of the new corporation. The Ohio Valley Industrial Corp. bought stock in the company and enlisted its help in other ways, such as seeking and securing loans for Imperial. By virtue of the stock that the OVIC held, an agreement was made between them and Imperial which allowed two members of the OVIC to be seated on the Imperial board of directors. They were Mr. Alien and Mr. Gilmer.

One of Mr. Newton's early accomplishments was the establishment of the Crown Glass Manufacturing Co. This was a wholly-owned subsidiary of Imperial and was located in the old Novelty Stamping Co. building. This company would do the cutting and decorating on Imperial glass.

Another of Mr. Newton's early accomplishments was the signing of a 16 month contract with Quaker Oats in 1 931 to supply them with approximately $230,000 worth of Cape Cod production to be used as premiums in the Quaker Oats boxes.

It was just after the Quaker Oats contract ran out in 1933 that Mr. Newton first began thinking about another tableware pattern to compliment the already successful Cape Cod pattern. This would become perhaps one of the most collected and famous patterns of all times - Candlewick. Early attempts to make Candlewick as we know it today were not successful. It wasn't until Earl Newton hired Carl Urhmann from Peltier Glass in early 1936 as plant manager that they developed block moulds to produce more attractive Candlewick pieces.

On May 19, 1936, Manion applied for a design patent for a four-toed bowl in the Candlewick design, which was awarded, and Imperial was on its way with a very successful line. The line was introduced to the public at the Wheeling Centennial on Aug. 17, 1936, and was produced continually in some shape or form until the factory closed in 1984.

On Jan. 1, 1940, Carl Wilkins Gustkey replaced Earl Newton as president of Imperial. He served in this capacity until his death on Oct. 26, 1967.

These 27 years are sometimes called Imperial's "Glory Years." Gustkey was hard-working, intelligent and a master at promoting the products of his company he so much believed in. During his tenure, Imperial developed many lines and tried many innovations. It was also during his tenure that Imperial bought the assets of the Central Glass Co. (1940), Heisey Glass Co. (1 958) and the Cambridge Glass Co. 1960).

During the second World War, Imperial secured many contracts to produce glassware of different types for the war effort. Many of Imperial's employees served in the military during this period of time.

In the early 1950s, Imperial diversified by entering the field of fiber glass production through the Lucas Development Corp. The making of pipe wrap and fiber glass mats was a successful endeavour for several years, but eventually business in this field slowed and was finally discontinued about mid-1968.

In early 1967, Imperial was approached by the Jeannette Glass Corp. concerning a possible merger of the two companies. The proposition was turned down and Jeannette made another offer to buy in July of 1967. This also was turned down. When Gustkey passed away in October of that year, Cart Urhmann, who had left Imperial to take a consulting job years earlier, returned to Imperial as its president.

In September of 1968, Mr. Stonehill, of the Jeannette Corp., made his stock offer. Knowing that the Imperial board of directors would turn down his offer, he went directly to the stockholders, many of whom were dissatisfied that Imperial had not been paying any dividends.

By the time Urhmann was able to set up a voting trust and call in all of the other stock, Jeannette owned just less than 30 percent of the stock. This created havoc in the company as Jeannette now had two of its people on the board. Since Urhmann and Ed Gustkey voted the other 70 percent of the stock - as trustees of the voting trust - at stockholders' meetings, the hostile take-over was now at a standstill.

In 1972, Imperial, which was in bad need of capital, found a remedy to the latter situation. A deal was worked out with Lenox Inc. On Dec. 26, 1972, the stockholders voted to accept the sale of the Imperial assets to a wholly-owned subsidiary of Lenox Inc. The exchange would be 3.315 shares of Lenox stock for each share of Imperial.

The agreement addressed three concerns of the Imperial stockholders. One was the tax question on the stock exchange; another was an assurance that Lenox would not move the operations to one of their other plants and thus close the Bellaire factory. Lenox assured the stockholders that they would handle these concerns to the satisfaction of the stockholders - which they did.

Also in the agreement was the stipulation that if more than 25 percent of the stockholders voted against the sale, then Lenox or Imperial had the option of terminating the agreement. Jeannette voted its 30 percent against the sale, but neither Imperial nor Lenox uttered a word. Jeannette was now forced to turn over its shares to Lenox at the same exchange rate as the other stockholders.

In 1981, after operating Imperial since January of 1973, Lenox sold the company to Arthur Lorch. Lenox foreclosed in 1982 when Lorch failed to meet his financial commitments to Lenox.

Robert Stahl took over the company at this time and filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection while the company still operated. Stahl was unable to raise capital and on Aug. 31, 1984, the status was changed to Chapter 7, with Thomas Straus named as trustee.

On Nov. 21, 1984, the bankruptcy judge authorized Straus to sell Imperial's assets to Consolidated International and Lancaster Colony in a joint venture for liquidation.

It was during the liquidation that Anna Maroon of Maroon Enterprises bought the factory and surrounding real estate. Plans were made to restore the factory so that it could house shops, restaurants, museum, etc. ...It was renamed Imperial plaza, and much time, money and effort were expended by Maroon Enterprises in making its venture a success.

It was, however, not to be, and Maroon Enterprises announced late in April 1995 that the factory would be torn down to make way for a new development - a strip mall.

An era has come to an end.

The above company history on Imperial Glass came from the "Imperial Collectors Glasszette" news letter, and is the property of the Imperial Collectors Glasszette, and in in way can be copied with out their consent. Written by Willard KolbHe is a glass researcher who resides in St. Clairsville, OH. He has devoted many years to compiling information about Imperial. If you are interested in more information on all types of glassware made by Imperial you need to join the club and join in the fun of collecting Imperial Glass. All the club information is here under Contemporary Glass Clubs .

If you want more up to date information the" National Imperial Glass Collector's Society" now has their own web site. Visit "N.I.G.C.S." web site today and find out what's happening.

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