“Approaching perfection”: Making glass bottles at the Whitall Tatum Company

Lewis Wickes Hine, [Whitall Tatum Company houses, Millville, New Jersey], 1936-37 (894-1975)

Millville, New Jersey – Scenes. A view of Whitall Tatum Company houses. Yards looking from Myrtle St. to upper Whitall Tatum plant. Emphasis on lack of sanitation and poor road facilities. (archives.gov)

Lewis Wickes Hine, [Green glass shop with variety of workers including carrying boy taking bottles to be annealed, Whitall Tatum Company, Millville, New Jersey], March 1937 (912.1975)

Millville, New Jersey – Glass bottles. Whitall Tatum green glass shop. The worker at the extreme left of the picture is a blower taking glass from the oven. To his right is a second blower rolling and blowing the glass on a sheet of iron before he puts it in a mould for final blowing. Under him is sitting the shaping mould boy. The man in profile toward the shaping mould boy is the carrying-up boy who takes the bottles from the mould to the gaffer, who is seated slightly to his left in this picture. The carrying-up boy on the right is taking the bottles to be annealed. (archives.gov)

Lewis Wickes Hine (1874-1940), [Worker operating Lynch bottle machine with molten glass ready to drop into mould, Whitall Tatum Company, Millville, New Jersey], March 26, 1937 (917.1975)

Millville, New Jersey – Glass bottles. Whitall Tatum Co. A Lynch bottle machine at work. In the center may be seen a blob of molten glass ready to drop into a mould. (archives.gov)

Lewis Wickes Hine, [Worker taking bottle off I.S. automatic blowing machine for testing, Whitall Tatum Company, Millville, New Jersey], March 26, 1975 (918.1975)

Millville, New Jersey – Glass bottles. Whitall Tatum Co. Second shot of a worker taking a bottle of an I. S. automatic blowing machine for testing. (archives.gov)

Lewis Wickes Hine, [Highly-skilled packer testing bottles before putting them into carton, Whitall Tatum Company, Millville, New Jersey], March 26, 1937 (919.1975)

Millville, New Jersey – Glass bottles. Whitall Tatum packer testing bottles before putting them into the carton at the lower right hand corner. He takes up four bottles at a time and turns them over to judge imperfections in the glass, color, weight, and shape. This has become a very high skilled job since the standards set by the machine production so nearly approach perfection. (archives.gov)

Lewis Wickes Hine, [Hartford “I.S.” stacker and lehr, fastest bottle machine in factory, Whitall Tatum Company, Millville, New Jersey], 1936-37 (928.1975)

Hartford “I.S.” Stacker and Lehr. Fastest bottle machine in factory, 24-72 bottles a minute. (archives/gov)

Lewis Wickes Hine, [Hartford “I.S.” glass-blowing machine, Whitall Tatum Company, Millville, New Jersey], April 1937 (929.1975)

Hartford “I.S.” machine. Last word in machine blowing, advance in economy over all others. (archives.gov)

Lewis Wickes Hine, [Hartford “I.S.” machine, Whitall Tatum Company, Millville, New Jersey], 1936-37 (930.1975)

Lewis Wickes Hine, [Bottles coming out of lehr, Whitall Tatum Company, Millville, New Jersey], 1936-37 (931.1975)

Glass making in factories in Millville, New Jersey began in 1806. The Whitall Tatum Company was one of the first glass making factories in the United States. The ownership and names have changed many times; the Whithall Tatum Company was in operation from around 1857-1938. Glass products were made, near the banks of he Maurice River in Millville, continuously for almost 200 years, until 1999.

In 1904 the writer visited the plant of Whitall Tatum Company, which is located at Millville. N. J., a thrifty town of about 12,000 inhabitants situated upon the banks of the Maurice River, which, when the glass works were started in 1831 by John M. Whitall of honored Quaker fame, was the sole means of communication with Philadelphia and New York. The town belies the reputation which sometimes attaches to glass blowing communities of being populated by a drunken, roistering set. In fact, largely through the votes of the glass blowers, the town is ” dry,” local option being in force. Numerous handsome churches take the place of saloons; there are also many comfortable houses (surrounded by gardens) that are occupied and owned by operatives.

An important part of glass making is the annealing. One method is to place the bottles upon sheet iron trays, which are then slowly drawn through long ovens heated quite hot at one end, the bottles being cooled as they pass to the other end of the oven. When they reach the lower end the bottles are turned over to the packers. The other method of annealing, followed in the manufacture of larger ware, carboys, aquaria, etc., is by stacking the ware in ovens which are kept at a high heat for some 24 hours and then gradually cooled. The stock out of which the glass is to be made is melted in both pots and tanks. The latter being built up of large clay blocks. One of these tanks measured 16 x 6o feet, 40 inches deep, held 175 to 200 tons and was heated at 2800° F. As we looked through a piece of blue glass at the boiling, hissing molten liquid it reminded us of some of the descriptions of Dante’s Inferno.

A machine of more than passing interest is one which blows and moulds the ware, its work appearing to be done with almost human intelligence. In the mould and plate storage house were stored thousands of plates belonging to customers in every part of the world, reproductions from two of the most interesting ones being shown. About 2,200 employees are on the pay roll, and it is no exaggeration to say that the Whitall Tatum Company works are the backbone of Millville, or that this enormous plant (one of the largest of its kind in the world) owes its success largely to the fact that it has been built upon the foundations of honesty and excellency. bottlebooks.com

Hine’s photos of making glass bottles clearly illustrate the “recent changes in industrial techniques” that the National Research Program was investigating:

The National Research Project on Reemployment Opportunities and Recent Changes in Industrial Techniques was organized in December 1935 as part of the National Research Program of the Works Progress Administration. Its purpose was to investigate recent changes in industrial techniques and evaluate their effects on employment. Between 1937 and 1941 the NRP published more than 700 reports on a broad variety of agricultural, manufacturing and mining activities. In late 1936 the distinguished documentary photographer, Lewis Hine, was hired as chief photographer for the Project. This series consists of photo studies made by Hine in 14 industrial communities from December 1936 to July 1937. General views of the community, working conditions in factories, machinery, and workers, are pictured for each photo study. Among the industries represented are textiles, railroads, mining, cabinet making, construction, and watch making. The following areas are represented- Holyoke and Easthampton, Massachusetts; Manchester, New Hampshire; Camden, Clifton, Millville, and Paterson, New Jersey; New York, New York; High Point, North Carolina; Bath, Eddystone, Lancaster, and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and Scott’s Run, West Virginia. (archives.gov)


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