By Brian Roulston
One hundred and thirty-six years ago on the same block of the new Hughson Street Church which is currently under construction between James, Hughson, Picton and Macaulay streets stood the glass factory of Hamilton Glass Works.
Hamilton Glass Works was originally founded in 1874 by three Hamilton area druggists John Winer, Lyman Moore (Vice-President) and George Rutherford (President). Nathan B. Gatchell was brought in as a business partner because of his previous glass making experience at Lancaster Glass Works in New York but he left within the year.
Hamilton Glass Works was a fairly large industrial complex for its day. It took up most of the block with several buildings, two large wood fired furnaces and a tall stack that once stood in the center of that block. The founders had planned on making the same type of brown drug store bottles that they were buying from their American suppliers.
The following year two tobacconists George Elias Tuckett and John Billings bought into the business but sold their shares in the company a year later to George Rutherford. George Tuckett was the most notable of all the Hamilton Glass Works investors. An English immigrant, he served one year as Hamilton’s 26th mayor in 1896. Before that Tuckett had owned several businesses in Hamilton that didn’t really catch on fire. However, he and John Billings did achieve considerable success after their glass making venture by selling cigars in England, Australia and South Africa.
For a while Hamilton Glass Works was run under Rutherford & Co until 1880 when the company was restructured then renamed Hamilton Glass Co.
The first known attempt to make glass in Canada began in 1819 by a German-born American in Rice Lake Ontario. His Land grant was revoked and he abandoned the business. In 1839 Mallorytown Glass Works became the first recorded manufacturer of glass products made in Canada. From 1840 to 1890 the glass business was a time of uncertainty and instability; startups quickly failed because of competition by European manufacturers for table-ware and from large American factories that had the Canadian market pretty much to themselves for other glassware. Anyone attempting to enter the latter had to contend with strong arm price cutting tactics by the American companies. This led to the bankruptcy of the previous owners of Burlington Glass Works located where Bayview Park is today at MacNab and Burlington Streets. Burlington Glass Works by the way was named for its view of Burlington Bay, not the city.
Hamilton Glass Works bought Burlington Glass Works initially to discourage new competition and it became the most productive of the two plants.
Prime Minister Alexander MacKenzie’s Conservative Party introduced tariffs in 1879 as part of its National Policy to protect Canadian industries. For the first time Canadian glass manufacturers had sufficient protection from those American companies to both invest and to grow.
Around 150 men and boys were employed at Hamilton Glass Works. A top notch glass blower could earn about $5-$6 a day while less skillful workers made 60¢ a day. Most glassworks factories were usually set up near a source of sand. Hamilton Glass Works shipped sand in by rail and soda ash came by boats from Europe. There were no suppliers of soda ash in North America at the time.
Hamilton Glass Works produced several lines of “druggist” bottles which were usually blown in green, amber and flint (clear or colorless) glass ranging from individual doses of 1 or 2 ounces up to 16 oz. The bottles could be oval, round, square or rectangular. The Burlington Street factory would run special molds with the name of the drugstore or apothecary.Sometimes the name of the drug or medicine was blown into the glass. Burlington Glass Works manufactured lamps of different colors as well.
The Hamilton Glass Works factory itself produced what was called “green glass” that was used for windows and bottles, ranging from colors such as aquamarine, green, olive green and even amber. They also made other containers such as fruit sealers, pickle jars, soda water bottles and ink bottles. Hamilton Glass Works became a major supplier of the glass hydro insulators used on hydro poles. It is unknown to this day the full range of products that were made by the Hamilton Glass Works.
Hamilton soon had the most glass factories in Canada.
Another glass factory, Diamond Glass Works of Montreal, absorbed Hamilton Glass Works in 1891 but kept the name. A year later a fire severely damaged the Burlington Glass Works facility and it was closed five years later. One of the managers from Diamond Glass Works left the company and took what equipment he could salvage from Burlington Glass Works and started his own glass factory in Toronto. This plant ,what was left of it, was torn down soon after.
When plant workers at Hamilton Glass Co had idle time they would practice and demonstrate their skills by producing decorative objects such as witch balls, canes, paper weights and rolling pins, even today, these items are sought after items by collectors.
In 1897 Diamond Glass absorbed Dominion Glass which already had two factories in Hamilton. One factory was located on Parkdale Avenue, the other on Chapple Street which stayed in operation until 1997. The decision was made to close the older, less productive Hamilton Glass Co. down; most of the men, equipment and moulds went to the Diamond Glass Company Plant in Toronto.
The Hamilton Glass Co. on Hughson was finally torn down and the area underwent a cleanup in 1920 following complaints of people cutting themselves on the glass that was left behind.