A Brief History of Glassmaking in South Jersey
It’s a little known fact that the American glassblowing industry has its roots in South Jersey. Today, a world-class museum pays homage to that history, and a workshop lures the best glassblowers and artisans in the world. The best part? You can go visit.
The American glass industry got its start in South Jersey because of the natural resources available in the area. Glassmaking requires wood, sand, soda ash and silica, all of which were easily found in South Jersey’s sandy pine barrens and along its waterways.
Glassmakers at WheatonArts © WheatonArts | WheatonArts
Caspar Wistar, a German immigrant, built the nation’s first successful glass factory in Millville, Salem County in 1739. In the years leading up to the American Revolutionary War, Wistar recruited artisans from all over Europe. His factory produced thousands of glass bottles each year, in addition to window glass and other products. Wistar, a friend of Ben Franklin, also produced glass globes for Franklin’s scientific experiments.
After Wistar died in 1752, his son took over the factory. The company soon began to fail due to mismanagement, and a group of artisans left to start their own factory in Glassboro.
In 1888, Dr. Theodore Corson Wheaton, a pharmacist, was making his own bottles for pills in Millville. His company ultimately became Wheaton USA, a company that’s still around to this day.
In the 1960s Frank Wheaton, Jr., a grandson of Theodore Wheaton, visited a museum in New York, where he saw a number of glass pieces that were produced in South Jersey. He thought the works belonged in a South Jersey museum, and he started building Wheaton Village.
The Museum of American Glass at WheatonArts © WheatonArts | WheatonArts
Today, Wheaton Village is WheatonArts, a destination that features a number of small workshops and a large glassblowing facility that offers fellowships for glassblowing artists, plus the finest collection of American glass in the country.
Art Gallery, Art Museum
At WheatonArts, you can watch glassblowers in action – and even learn to blow glass yourself. You can also visit artisans’ shops and purchase their pieces, plus visit a museum that features the nation’s finest collection of American glass. WheatonArts also hosts festivals and special, holiday-themed events throughout the year, and the whole family will have a blast learning about an American tradition.