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South Wheeling Glass Works [Hobbs Brockunier Glass], 1886

from THE WHEELING DAILY INTELLIGENCER, " Special Natural Gas Edition", September 14, 1886.
View Special Edition in its entirety.


A Half Century of Skill Builds Up a Great Establishment

The South Wheeling Glass Works of Hobbs, Brockunier & co. are located in the lower part of the city, to the growth of which they have greatly contributed. The present establishment can be traced back to a small furnace containing ten pots constructed in 1826, and operated by Plunkett & Miller, who were unsuccessful and, failing, were sold out. The works were leased in 1845 by James Barnes and John L. Hobbs who came here from East Cambridge, Mass. Both had been identified, with the New England Glass company, the former as superintendent of the crucible or pot room; and the latter as principal salesman, with which he combined the duties of superintendent of the cutting department. James F. Barnes, a son of James B. Barnes, and John H. Hobbs, a young man and son of John L. Hobbs, came shortly after their fathers.

Br. Barnes died in 1849, and Mr. Hobbs in 1881. When Messrs. Hobbs & Barnes commenced to lend their energies to reviving the works they had to contend with more than the ordinary discouragements which generally fall in the pathway of a new business, the defeat of Henry Clay, the high protective candidate for President of the United States, having a very depressing influence on manufacturing enterprises. The outlook, in fact, was so discouraging that a few capitalists who had agreed to join Hobbs & Barnes in the event of Clay's election, declined to lend their aid when it was known that the Whig candidate was defeated.

Wheeling at that time had done little towards developing manufacturing interests and utilizing the advantages she possessed over other communities. The start of this idle glass house was to mark an era in the history of the city, which would make her famous throughout the length and breadth of America, and renowned in the markets of the Old World for the quality and extent of the glass manufactured.


The only great towns of the West and South at that time were Cincinnati, St. Louis and New Orleans. Not a mile of railroad west of the Allegheny mountains was built, the present track of the great highway of civilization being forest paths, and the only echo wakening the quiet of the peaceful Ohio Valley was the hallooing of the teamsters of the heavy merchandise wagons. River transportation was the sole means of receiving most of the raw materials, and forwarding the finished products, except to inland towns, which had to be reached by the slow and expensive means of the old fashioned road wagons with teams of four, six and eight horses, travelling the National road, the Appian Way of those days. These and many other discouragements had to be faced and overcome in relighting the fires of the furnaces and rehabilitating the works to push them forward to successful results, obstacles that would dishearten the most sanguine and energetic businessmen of this day of progress and improvement.


The works at this time, 1845, consisted of one furnace, containing seven pots of the then customary small size. The coal used at the works cost 1 1/4 cents per bushel, or 35 cents per ton. Wood, at $1.50 per cord, was used in the lears. The glass manufactured was that usually known as flint, lead, or full crystal.

It will generally strengthen the perspective of this sketch to relate that the price of bar iron was from 3 to 5 cents; sheet iron sold at 10 cents,; nails brought $4 per keg, and letter postage was 25 cents. The prices paid skilled labor ranged from 75 cents to $1 per move. On the first pay rolls are the following: Chas Butler, 75 cents per move; Henry Leasure and Wm Elson, 15 1/2 cents per move; Andrew Baggs, 25 cents per move; Peter Cassell, 13 3/4 cents per move; William Kryter, mould maker, $30 per month. The articles manufactured then were solar chimneys, jars, vials, tumblers, pungents, tinctures, lamps for lard oil, salts and cologne bottles.

In 1849 James B. Barnes died, when the firm became Hobbs, Barnes & Co.; being composed of John L. Hobbs, James F. Barnes and John H. Hobbs. The South and West increasing rapidly in wealth and population, were opening up a great market for the wares of this firm, enabling them not only to keep more constantly at work, but compelling them to increase their capacity.

In 1856 the firm again changed to Barnes, Hobbs & Co., composed on John L. Hobbs, James F. Barnes, J. H. Hobbs, and J. K Dunham. Under this firm name the business was continued until 1857, when the firm changed to Hobbs & Barnes. In this year the discovery of the illuminating property of petroleum, and the distillation of illuminating oils from coal in Kentucky and elsewhere, added a new branch to the manufacture of lamps and chimneys. The demand was so great for this class of goods that it was impossible to produce enough to supply it.


In February, 1863, the firm of J. H. Hobbs, Brockunier & Co., was formed, consisting of J. L. Hobbs, John H. Hobbs, and Charles W. Brockunier. In the fall of 1863, William Leighton, sr., was admitted into the firm. In 1868 William Leighton, Sr., retired and his son, William Leighton, jr., was admitted as a member of the firm. In 1881, Mr. John L. Hobbs died, the remaining members of the firm bought his interests from the heirs, and the firm name changed to Bobbs, Brockunier & Co., which is the present firm without any change of personnel.

In 1863, when Mr. Leighton, sr., was admitted into the firm and took charge of the manufacturing department, he entered readily into the prospect of finding glass pure in color and durable without lead being a component part of its composition. After numerous experiments, sand from Berkshire county, Mass., Spanish whiting or chalk, bi-carbonate of soda, with the other ingredients, were found to make a brilliant and durable glass. Every glass works at this time, East and West, of any importance, was making lead glass.


From the little concern of 1836 these works have grown in the manufacture of table ware and fine goods until their capacity excels that of any other single glass house in the country. The buildings cover an area of several acres. The works are now composed of three furnaces with a melting capacity of 150 tons per week, clay room and pot manufactory, mold shops, cutting shops, etching rooms, decorating rooms, with necessary kilns to burn decorated ware, &c. Six hundred and fifty hands are employed. About four hundred car loads of goods are shipped annually to every part of the United States, Cuba, South America, Australia and Europe. Sample rooms are kept by this firm in Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Baltimore, with traveling salesmen in the West and North.


Several thousand dollars worth of gold bullion is used annually in coloring the fancy ware, producing a pure ruby. This firm makes a larger amount of ruby glass annually, than all other houses in this country combined.

When Thomas Webb, of England made his first shipment of coral, or peach, blow ware, to New York, Mr. Wm. Leighton, Jr., secured a piece of the ware and before the second shipment had been opened in New York, the always enterprising firm was turning out the same ware, which is being sold by some dealers as imported goods.

The best imitation of the famous $18,000 Morgan vase is manufactured by this firm, and although the first imitation was put on the market early this spring, the sales have been enormous and the demand for them is on the increase.

With the introduction of natural gas into this factory and its vast superiority over coal, wood and benzine, it is hard to say what may the South Wheeling works not yet accomplish in their line of goods.

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