Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Oak Harbor Glass Factory, Oak Harbor, Ohio

Oak Harbor Glass Factory, ca. 1929
Arch Street, Fremont, Ohio
Melinda Keller Hofacker (center)
Courtesy of John Liske,
Oak Harbor Library Local History & Museum Center 

On a recent visit to the splendid Oak Harbor LibraryLocal History and Museum Center, I admired the display of glassware. The more I looked, the more I recognized pieces that resembled several of those in my cupboard. I remembered that my pieces were supposedly Heisey Glassware, but none bore the distinctive “H” within a diamond. I recalled that one of my late aunts had worked at the Oak Harbor Glass Factory. After discussions with John Liske who is knowledgeable about “all things Oak Harbor,” I learned that indeed a glass factory had once existed on Houghton St. north of town. Mr. Liske showed me the notes he had acquired from Connie Bahs who researched the history of the factory and interviewed several of the former employees. Her work is published in the History of Ottawa County, Ohio and Its Families.

Originally known as the “Brilliant Cut Glass Company,” it began operations in 1919 with Jacob Neipp as president and John H. Fisher, a glass cutter formerly of Libbey Glass, as manager. The following year, the “Liberty Cut Glass Company” of Egg Harbor, New Jersey purchased the plant, retaining Fisher as its manager. Within the year, Fisher became the president and owner of what was then named the “Oak Harbor Glass Factory.”

No glass was blown or molded at the factory. Blanks were shipped from Cambridge and the Heisey factory in Newark, Ohio as well as Egg Harbor. The “Oak Harbor Glass Factory” employed 30 to 40 women as etchers. Their wage was 30 cents per day. Skilled etchers from Libbey Glass taught the women the proper technique of hydrofluoric acid etching. They practiced on broken or imperfect pieces known as “chards.” Sometimes samples were given to the women, who then created their own designs. Variations also occurred as each woman worked to perfect her technique.  Other “chards” were tossed out the window onto a heap behind the factory. Villagers often salvaged some of these less than perfect pieces.

Women worked in lots of a dozen pieces, using a grinding wheel to apply a single design to each piece. Once completed, they etched a second design (leaf. stem, or bud). on each of the same blanks until the entire design was complete. There were at least eleven designs. Some were known as dahlia, aster, forget-me-not, daisy, grape, poppy, vesta, and mystic.

Oak Harbor Glassware

The women wore heavy aprons to prevent burns from the lime water sprayed onto the grinding wheels to keep them from overheating. They etched a myriad of pieces: glasses (a dozen sold for $1.50) plates, compotes, cordials, sherbets, pitchers, sugar and creamer sets, cake plates, candlesticks, syrup containers, vases, and candy dishes. Even lamps, and mirrors were etched. Not all were crystal clear. There were blue, green, pink and even rare amber pieces.

Ms. Bahs states that the “Oak Harbor Glass Factory” sold “vast quantities of the finished product to Kresge’s and Woolworth’s.” The Lion Store, Hudson’s, and Crowley’s were just a few of the department stores that carried Oak Harbor glassware. Locally, grocery stores gave them away as premiums.

On a cold night in February 1928, fire destroyed the factory. Crossed electrical wires were believed to have been the cause. Fisher estimated the loss at $40,000. The company continued in business above the Oak Harbor fire station and then in 1929 moved to the north end of Arch Street in Fremont, Ohio. A victim of the depression, the Oak Harbor Glass Factory went out of business the following year. Stop in at the Oak Harbor Library. You too may find that you have some Oak Harbor Glassware!