A look at Mt. Pleasant’s rich glass heritage: Festival begins on Friday in the borough
MOUNT PLEASANT — The borough’s rich glass heritage dates back more than a century.
In 1895, the Bryce Brothers came to Mount Pleasant and established a crystal glass factory that once employed 1,000 people. The factory, located on Bridgeport Street, manufactured crystal glass of such high quality that it set an industry standard, says Richard Snyder, chairman of the Mount Pleasant Area Historical Society.
Bryce Brothers operated until 1965, when Lenox Crystal acquired the company. In 1970, Lenox closed the Bryce plant in the borough and relocated to a new factory on Route 31 in Mount Pleasant Township. In 1978, Lenox produced more than half of all American-made lead crystal.
Lenox created crystal for discriminating buyers, including U.S. presidents and ambassadors, until ceasing operation in early 2002. The factory is now an outlet store and some glassware is still etched and painted there.
L.E. Smith Glass began because of mustard. The Mount Pleasant Township factory currently employs 120 people.
In 1907, the Smith Company purchased the Anchor Glass Company in the township’s Duncan Plan area and began manufacturing its own jars to hold “Smith’s German Mustard.”
According to an account by Sandra Spence in “A Town that Grew at the Crossroad,” written in 1978, the former Anchor plant burned in 1913 and Smith built a new factory.
In addition to jars, Smith Glass made barber shop shaving mugs, originated the glass dome for coffee pots, developed the first glass egg separator, and in the 1930s, started producing mixing bowls, water coolers and other household items. Smith also produced headlight lenses for the Ford Motor Company. For 22 years, the company made more than half of Ford’s headlight lenses. After World War II, Ford began manufacturing its own lenses.
Today, Smith Glass produces six lines, according to Theresa Levanduski of Smith Glass. About 70 percent is giftware, 10 percent is lighting and 10 percent food service products.
Smith manufactures bowls for Caesar’s Palace and platters for the Four Seasons Restaurant, among other high-end customers. The remainder of the business is divided between glass block, awards and commemorative pieces and industrial glass, mainly lab ware.
As it did for Mount Pleasant’s sesquicentennial in 1978, Smith has produced a limited edition paperweight for the borough’s 175th anniversary.
All Smith glass is handmade.
Says Levanduski, “The glass is hand-gathered with a rod out of the furnace. The glassmakers do it by touch and feel. It takes a great deal of skill. The glass presses are hand-operated. Handmade glass is different in look and feel and weight than machine-made glass.”
In Norvelt, Electro-Glass Products has been producing glass insulators for glass to metal hermetic sealing since 1973.
According to owner and president Jim Schmidt, the plant employs 42 people who make precise glass products that provide seals in night vision goggles, the space shuttle, life support machines, smart bombs, televisions and many other consumer products.
The silica sand to make glass, as well as the various elements used to color it and lead to make crystal all have to be brought from outside the area. So why is Mount Pleasant known for glass?
Snyder says, “This was a good general manufacturing area. There were skilled craftsmen. All of southwestern Pennsylvania was full of glass manufactures. This was a highly technical manufacturing area. Back in the 50s, Smith Glass worked three shifts.”
Government regulations of lead levels in crystal as well as the requirement that all lead fumes be captured at the manufacturing site have ruined the American crystal industry.
“It became too expensive to comply with the regulations,” says Snyder. “Glass companies can get crystal ware from Europe where it is manufactured without the same regulations that we have here. It’s cheaper to import it than to make it here. But the glass plants that remain in this area are doing well.”
The Mount Pleasant Glass and Ethnic Festival begins on Friday. For details, see Page A12 today.