Few American businesses hold the historical significance that Gillinder Glass does. The year 2023 will mark two centuries since the birth of Gillinder Glass’ founder, William Thynne Gillinder, the man who quite literally wrote the book on glass making, The Art of Glass Making. In 1861, William would purchase the Samuel’s Bottle Factory in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and create Philadelphia Flint Glass Works, which would begin the over 160-year history of Gillinder Glass.
In 1831, at the age of eight, William was already working in a glass factory in England. By the age of twenty, he had become a master glass maker. By the age of thirty, he had become an important figure of the National Flint Glass Makers Friendly Society of Great Britain and Ireland, and in 1851, he wrote The Art of Glass Making, which would remain an industry reference for over half a century.
In 1854, like many glass makers at the time, William decided to set out to America, due to the lack of work found in England. Resigning from the National Flint Glass Makers Friendly Society after two years, in his farewell letter, William wrote:
If prosperity should ever shine on me, whatever my position may be, I shall always look back on this last two years of my life with pleasure and a conscience at ease, that I have done my duty, as far as in my power lay... to those who I may not see, I now bid them Farewell. (W. Gillinder, 1854, p. 4)
1854 reissued copy of The Art of Glass Making by William T. Gillinder, gifted to his son Fredrick, with the inscription, "From the Author To his Love Fredrick R. Gillinder July 4th 1869"
Promised a job at New England Glass Works, William headed to Cambridge with wife, Elizabeth, and children, Agnes, James, Fredrick, and Elizabeth, but to their surprise, little work was to be found in Cambridge either. Seeking other employment, William found himself working at the O’Hara Glass Works Company in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. William and his family would find themselves living in St. Louis while he worked at a glass bottle factory operated by G. W. Soollay.
In 1859, William and son, Fredrick, returned to Pittsburgh and again found work at O’Hara Glass while they saved money to relocate the rest of the family. William’s grandson, James A. Gillinder, told tales from his father, James, about that time, saying that when the family was finally able to afford the move, his grandmother, Elizabeth, tried to withdraw their savings from the bank, but tragically they found:
A crowd around the outside of the bank. It had stopped payment of all monies. A man standing by saw my grandmother crying and took her and my father through a back door of the bank and they received all their money in gold. (J. Gillinder, 1945)
Shortly after the family returned to Pittsburgh, and the birth of two more children, Florance and Harry, the family would briefly move to Baltimore, Maryland. While there, William was able to start his own factory, only to see it close shortly thereafter. The temporary relocation was not without reward, as William would meet future business partner, Edwin Bennett. Within a year, William would make a final short return to O’Hara Glass before relocating to Philadelphia, where he would work at Philadelphia Glass Works (S. Gillinder, n.d.).
In 1861, William managed to obtain funds to open a small factory on Maria Street in Philadelphia. His sons, Fredrick and James, would join him working in the factory that primarily manufactured lamp chimneys. William named the new company Philadelphia Flint Glass Works.
Later that year, the company would have its first name change and become the William T. Gillinder Glass Factory, Franklin Flint Glass Works (or simply, Franklin Flint Glass Works). William would take over a bottle factory on the corner of Howard and Oxford streets in Philadelphia.
Left- G. Mutzer on opening day of Maria Street factory.
Franklin Flint Glass Works, Gillinder & Bennett factory in 1865.
Franklin Flint Glass Works, Gillinder & Bennett trade cards 1863- 1866.
In December of 1865, William Gillinder received a patent for a new blow pipe that changed the tedious process of attaching handles to pitchers. The new process produced pitchers with handles pressed as one and “the [new] tool was a combination plunger, blow pipe and snap-clamp which enabled the glass worker to press a blank and blow it out into a bulbous shape all in one swift operation” (Revi, 1960, p. 297).
In 1871, Gillinder received a patent for a new pattern called ‘Star’ or as it later became known to collectors ‘Stippled Star.’ Sixth generation owner, Charlie Gillinder said, “On the original Star pattern, the stars became smaller from top to bottom. This pattern was reproduced by others, and on the reproductions, the stars were all the same size” (C. Gillinder, 2022).
Photo 1- Gillinder pitcher using new tooling. Photo 2- Stippled Star pattern.
Centennial Exhibition ticket from 1876.
The second was near the entrance of the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition grounds. The attraction ran for six months, May through November, reportedly grossing nearly four million dollars and attracting over eight million visitors (Fitzpatrick, 1965). Gillinder’s factory became a must-see attraction of the show, visitors watched in awe as the glass makers created beautiful pieces of pressed and blown glass right in front of them. Popular items included, vases, sugar bowls, butter dishes, canes, glass slippers, and various busts, which were often engraved with the purchaser’s initials.
In 1876, during the Centennial Exhibition, Gillinder & Sons built two new locations. The first was the Franklin Flint Works Decorating Plant on the corner of North Howard and Waterloo Streets in Philadelphia. Gillinder would continue to operate out of this building until 1914 and the historically designated building would stand well into the twenty-first century (Coscia, 2020).
Gillinder & Son's price book from February 1st, 1876
Gillinder & Son's factory at the Centennial Exhibition in 1876.
In 1883, Gillinder opened a window glass factory in Tacony, Pennsylvania. After five to six years, the factory was closed and Gillinder never returned to window production (Pfau & Barger, 1976, p. 10).
Gillinder & Sons- Franklin Window Glass Works Tacony, PA.
In 1890, motivated by cheaper fuel prices, Gillinder & Sons moved pressing operations to Greensburg, Pennsylvania. The following year, they partnered with the United States Glass Factory, however it was short lived, and around 1893, Gillinder sold its interests in the factory to the United States Glass Factory. At the time, the United States Glass Factory was acquiring multiple glass companies for consolidation (C. Gillinder, 2022). As part of the sale, Gillinder & Sons agreed not to sell pressed tableware for the next two decades, and surprisingly, Gillinder never sold tableware again.
Right- Price list poster Gillinder & Sons Tacony, PA.
In 1912, the original founder’s grandsons, and namesakes, William Gillinder and Edwin Bennett Gillinder, joined their brother, James Gillinder, in establishing Gillinder Brothers (Taylor, 1994, p. 13). The new factory’s location was to be in Port Jervis, a small town in New York, bordering Pennsylvania and New Jersey. William purchased Orange County Flint Glass Works; a factory established in 1873 by Brox and Buckley (S. Gillinder, n.d.). Gillinder & Sons would continue manufacturing in Philadelphia for nearly two decades and Port Jervis would remain the home of Gillinder Brothers over a century later.
In 1919, both of Gillinder’s locations, were decimated by fires. The Philadelphia plant would be reopened shortly after, only to be completely demolished by fire and closed down a decade later. The Port Jervis factory was entirely destroyed by the 1919 fire, with the iron molds being all that remained. The Port Jervis Union Gazette (1933) reported that after some negotiation with the town of Port Jervis, an agreement was reached to build a new plant, which would be completed the following year. During the reconstruction, Gillinder’s manufacturing was done in an unused factory in White Mills, Pennsylvania.
Early photos of Gillinder Glass factory on Erie Street in Port Jervis, NY.
Right- Gillinder & Sons' Fire- early 1920's
In 1923, a century after William T. Gillinder was born, Gillinder Brothers Inc. was officially incorporated. In the century since, Gillinder Brothers has become one of the most well know leaders in the glass industry. Today, Gillinder remains an industry expert, continuing to diversify product lines and implement innovative manufacturing processes. Employing sophisticated chemists and engineers who regularly create new designs, alter chemical compounds, and modify color compositions allows Gillinder to stay in the forefront of the glass industry.
Above and Right- old black and white photos of Gillinder factories.
A special thank you to Charlie and Allyson Gillinder for their time and assistance to create this piece.
Please submit questions, comments, or additional historical information about Gillinder Glass via email to:
Jackie Conklin at: JConklin@GillinderGlass.com
Coscia, S. (2020, Aug 11). Address: 1700-06 N. Howard St.. Phila.gov. Retrieved November 14, 2022, view here
Fitzpatrick, P. (1965). The Spinning Wheel.
Gillinder Bros. Celebrate 20 Years in Business Here. (1933, Jan 16). Port Jervis Union Gazette.
Gillinder, C. (2022, Nov 11). Gillinder Brothers hundred year article.
Gillinder, J. (1945, May 10). Talk on American Antique Glass. American Antique Glass of Boston, Boston, Massachusetts.
Gillinder, S. (n.d.). The Story of Gillinder Glass. Speech.
Gillinder, W. (1854, Aug 12). The Flint Glass Makers’ Magazine. In W. Gillinder’s Farewell Address (Vol. 1). The National Flint Glass Makers’ Friendly Society of Great Britain and Ireland.
Pfau, D., & Barger, H. (1976, Nov 10). The Gillinder Story: 1823- 1976. Presentation to the Amelung Chapter of the National Early American Glass Club.
Revi, A. C. (1960, May). The Development of the Pressed Glass Industry in America. The Glass Industry.
Taylor, G. (1994, Jan 1). Gillinder Glass: Story of a Company. Retrieved October 21, 2022, view here
GILLINDER HISTORY: THE FIRST CENTURY
In 1863, William was joined by Edwin, and the company was renamed Gillinder & Bennett. Just three years later, Edwin sold his interests to Fredrick and James, and the company was renamed Gillinder & Sons. Fredrick and James would take over operations in 1871 after their father’s death on February 22, 1871 (Taylor, 1994, p. 6).