A Guide to Glassmaking in West Virginia
Glass-blowing class | © Valerie Everett / Flickr
West Virginia has a rich tradition of glassmaking, with over 400 factories and manufacturers creating glass products since the late 1800s. Even though the industry has come and gone, there are many places where handmade glass is still made in the state. Here is a brief history of glassmaking in West Virginia and five places where you can learn more and see glassmaking in action.
Glass is made from the process of heating sand to an extremely high temperature so that it turns into a moldable liquid. When it solidifies, you have a piece of glass in whatever shape you’ve created. A glassmaker can blow the liquid glass into a freeform shape, or press it into a mold. It can also be formed into sheets, which if colored and cut, can be made into stained-glass windows.
Oglebay Glass Museum © marada / Flickr
West Virginia is home to one of the highest quality deposits of silica sand in the United States. The Industrial Revolution and new technologies allowed not only for the silica to be turned into glass more easily but for mass production of glass products. West Virginia became home to companies that produced plate-glass (which can be turned into windows or stained glass), bottles, containers, glassware, and even iconic toy marbles.
Ron Hinkle Glass
South of Buckhannon, West Virginia, Ron Hinkle has been making glass as a professional since 1974, although he did try to mold parts of his chemistry set over his mom’s stove when he was just 12. Today, he makes colorful, hand-blown and sculpted art pieces in his studio. Visit him Monday through Friday for live demonstrations, or pick up his art in galleries across the state and country.
Blenko Glass Co.
The Blenko company has been operating in Milton, West Virginia, since 1921. This family of glassmakers has created a small factory that employs over 20 people in the making of delicate glassware pieces. Stop by their showroom or take a tour on a Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, or Friday.
Glass marbles usually aren’t something that we think about; we just play with them as kids. But in Paden City, glass marbles are king because the little town is home to Marble King. The company was founded in 1949, and today, they produce one million marbles every day. During the summer months, you can visit the Marble King gift shop and buy regular marbles, or find something a little more exciting, such as marble jewelry or marble toys.
The Museum of American Glass in West Virginia
In Weston, West Virginia, you can visit the Museum of American Glass in West Virginia, dedicated to showcasing the long history of glass production in the state. The museum is small but offers a broad look at the different types of production and how the industry has changed over time, and it even has an archive if you want to dig deeper into glass history.
Oglebay Institute’s Glass Museum
The Oglebay Mansion and Resort in Wheeling, West Virginia, is also home to the Glass Museum, which focuses just on glass made in the northern panhandle region of the state. With some pieces dating back to the 1830s, the museum offers examples of how glassmaking techniques and artistry has changed over the past 200 years.