Ohio Glass Museum

Admission to the Ohio Glass Museum is $6/adult, $5/senior, and $3 per child 6-18 years old.

The Ohio Glass Museum in Lancaster, Ohio:
Excerpt from a past edition of OhioTraveler by Robert Carpenter

Here’s a thought you may not have considered: What would we do without glass? A glance around the average household reveals the most common use in windows and doors but also table tops, light bulbs, light fixtures, picture frame glass, tableware, shelves, art items, mirrors, jars, bottles, and that tube that brings us news and entertainment for hours every day—all taken for granted. Attempts at alternatives have been made, of course, but how often have you picked up an item to discover that it’s “only plastic.” Glass is “quality,” and for some things, there is no substitute.

Glass was discovered as far back as the Bronze Age and the first manual on glassmaking is dated 650 B.C.  Yet for all the technology developed in the last half-century, there are applications for which nothing exceeds the superiority of this most ancient of manufactured materials.

The history of glass in chronicled in the movie, Born of Fire shown continuously at the Ohio Glass Museum in Lancaster. The museum, established in 2002, documents the science of glassmaking throughout time and emphasizes the glass industry in Fairfield County that has been a mainstay of the economy for over 100 years.

It’s hard to imagine a finished material more dissimilar to its ingredients than glass. Although there are minor elements in the mix, normally glass is 75 percent silica. For us laymen, that’s sand—the same stuff you scooped and shoveled around in that big box when you were a kid.

Fairfield County is rich in natural resources, and two of the most abundant are sand and the natural gas that provides flames of extraordinary temperatures to transform silica to a molten state. The glass industry, innately compatible to these resources, resulted in the 2003 State Legislature’s designation of Lancaster the “Pressed Glass Capital” of Ohio.

Throughout the year there are different themes that are featured such as Milk Glass and Milk Bottles. Regardless of the description, they have related only to material and the fact that both became obsolete decades ago. Those experienced with such simple items as milk bottles never dreamed they would become treasures of archival interest. But they’re one of the items for which we’ve found more efficient construction—meaning cheaper—such as plastic and waxed cardboard. It seems inconceivable that there are people of middle age who have never experienced pouring from one of those cold slippery bottles—one of the most ubiquitous items of the modern age—but, that’s why they’re in museums today.

And they were recyclable long before the word was commonly used. When empty, they were rinsed and taken back to the dairy, or if you were on a route, you put them out for the milkman who exchanged them for full ones. There is hardly a nostalgic note more pleasant than the clank of those bottles at 5 a.m.—knowing that your fresh, cool breakfast milk was waiting at the door. The most common were round quart bottles with small necks and cardboard caps pressed into the opening, but in the museum display, you will find every conceivable size and design ever made.

And there is the milk glass exhibit. The most popular was the milky white translucent glass from which it got its name, but it was also manufactured in a variety of colors including blue, pink, yellow, brown, and black. Milk glass has been around since the sixteenth century, although it did not acquire the name that is meant to describe its appearance until early in the last century. It came into vogue in the nineteenth century, and French milk glass in particular is highly collectible today.

There was a time when milk glass was a symbol of style and privilege in American homes. Large domestic glass makers such as New England Glass Company, Bryce Brothers, and Atterbury & Company were quick to embrace the fashion, and it appears that collectible plates is not the recently conceived industry that some imagine. Most sought after were plates of early American historical figures like George Washington whose picture along with stars of the flag were pressed in relief into plate bottoms. Christopher Columbus was popular as well, and presidential nominees used commemorative plates as part of their campaigns.

Unlike dinnerware that demanded a certain level of functionality, platters were manufactured with extreme decorative effects. The relief, for example on the exceptionally rare Lincoln platters, is so deep they could hardly have been used for anything but ornamental objects. There were other more generic designs that were admired as well and some were not conventionally shaped at all but formed as ducks, fish, and other animals.

There were some companies that made their name and entire reputations on milk glass, but the milk glass fashion trend, like all others, finally came to an end. During the Depression it began to lose its luster and at the end of the ‘50s—about the time milk bottles were phased out, milk glass ceased to be a symbol of status.

Of course its demise, at least after a period, caused it to become more valuable. The whole story can be found currently at the Ohio Glass Museum in Lancaster, and it’s advisable to look closely—that forgotten piece you inherited from Grandma and have tucked way in the back of your upper closet shelf may have gained more than cobwebs and dust.

The museum is located at 124 West Main Street in Lancaster and is complete with a gift shop of service ware and art glass. With holidays coming, you may find that special present you’ve been looking for. The doors are open from 1-4 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, and if you really want to make a day of it, there is a bonus of the Georgian Museum, Sherman House Museum, and the Decorative Arts Center of Ohio—all within walking distance. For more information call 740-687-0101.