The Origin of American-Made
Christmas Ornaments and Shiny Brite
By Robert C. Runge Jr.
Inexpensive colorful glass
Christmas ornaments have been an important part of American Christmas tree
decorating since the 1880s, when retailer Frank W. Woolworth began importing and
selling them in his 5 & 10 cent stores.
Each of these delicate ornaments was completely hand-blown and
hand-painted. Ornament manufacturing occurred in the home, and was a family
cottage industry, with each family member responsible for a portion of
production. The glassmaking centers
were the primary source for glass ornaments, but by the 1920s,
were producing ornaments as well.
During the late 1930s, Nazi
German U-Boats terrorized the North Atlantic, sinking merchant ships so as to
disrupt the shipment of supplies to
. This also curtailed the importing of European Christmas ornaments to the
. As a result, American retailers
were scrambling to find sources for inexpensive glass ornaments.
This led German importer Max Eckardt, in cooperation with F. W.
Woolworth’s, to approach Corning Glass Works regarding the possibility of
adapting their ‘Ribbon Machine’ light bulb machinery to Christmas ornament
agreed and began developing Christmas ornament production during late 1938 and
began ornament production in earnest at their Wellsboro, PA plant in 1939.
Because of anti-German
sentiment caused by
's hostility during the late 1930s, the early
ornaments were completely new and modern and did not rely on old European
Christmas ornament styles for inspiration.
utilized designers from their Steuben Art Glass division to design the new
shapes for their Christmas ornament venture. In addition to simple spheres,
several ornament shapes were industrial-inspired Deco Modern. By not using old
European ornaments for inspiration, the new
ornaments completely symbolized Americanism, Patriotism and the American
Ideal. Even the Corning Santa Claus ornament has an Americanized
appearance ~ so unlike the German St. Nicholas figural glass ornaments.
1942 Corning Ornament Ad.
Corning's modern Deco shapes were manufactured
briefly during 1938-1939. By 1940, most of these early Industrial Deco designs
were discontinued in favor of simpler reflectors, spheres and pendants.
In December 1940, Life
Magazine published a brief article describing
’s foray into Christmas Ornament production.
CHRISTMAS ORNAMENTS ~
NOW MASS-PRODUCES THEM
“The war has reached its
long tentacles into the coziest corners of
industry and, as a result, the
this year for the first time in history will be self-sufficient in the matter
of Christmas-tree ornaments. Normally
consumes from 50,000,000 to 80,000,000 ornaments a year.
Until last year it imported 99% of them from Europe, largely from
where they were made by cheap home labor. Last
year the European supply was cut off and
suffered a severe ornament shortage. This
year, however, the Corning Glass works, which produces glass in many forms from
light bulbs to the 200-in. mirror for
, is producing 40,000,000 ornaments.
Finishing Ornaments ~ Grinding Pikes.
find labor as cheap as that in Europe,
turned to the machine and mass production.
It uses virtually the same machine with which it makes electric light
bulbs. Glass pours molten from huge
furnaces, spins out in strips over endless belts, is nudged into shape by
compressed air, fashioned by molds which pop around the red-hot glass balls.
The formed balls are knocked off the strips by revolving hammers.
Then they are annealed, colored, rolled along finished for packing.
makes 300,000 ornaments a day. Besides
balls, it makes what the trade calls Small Fancies and Large Fancies in many
shapes – bells, oblongs, pyramids, lanterns, diamonds, reflectors, pine cones
Corning's Automated Decorating Machinery
The January 1941 edition of
Popular Mechanics continued with the
ornament theme by publishing the following article:
BIRTH OF A BAUBLE
“IN ITS first year of
operation, the world’s only mass-production factory for manufacturing glass
Christmas-tree ornaments, the Wellsboro, Pa., plant of the Corning Glass Works,
has turned out more than half of all the new decorations which will bedeck
American trees this season. At the rate of 400 a minute, approximately 2,000,000
a week, the brightly colored globes have been pouring from the production line.
Six months of intensive work by
engineers made possible the
At the end of the assembly line, the
off the belt like so many glass bubbles and are
packed into cartons.
ingenious machines which turn a pound of glass into
-size ornaments. A ribbon of molten glass enters one end of the
production line and a steady stream of bulbs which have been shaped, silvered
inside, and tinted outside, comes out at the other end. One hundred and eighty
different sizes, styles, and colors are produced at the Wellsboro plant.
Formerly, most of our glass Christmas-tree decorations came from central
, where families of craftsmen formed and tinted them by hand. Machine methods
not only speed up production but are said to turn out more uniform globes.”
Tree Ornaments of all shapes
and colors are stacked up for final check-
ing before shipping.
In addition to their own
brand of Christmas ornaments, by 1940,
was producing all the ornament blanks for several different Christmas ornament
decorating and distributing companies. Max
Eckardt decorated and marketed Corning
blanks under his Shiny Brite brand. During
most of World War II, Shiny Brite ornaments were packed in boxes with patriotic,
Victory graphics showing Uncle Sam shaking hands with Santa Claus!
Other companies utilizing Corning ornament blanks during the 1940s were
Santa Heim, Coby, George Franke, Marks Brothers, Doubl-Glo, and Santa Novelties
- these companies simply decorated the Corning-manufactured blanks and sold them
as their own brands, they did not manufacture any of the glass themselves.
Max Eckardt’s Shiny Brite brand utilized more
blanks for a greater length of time than all other decorators and distributors.
sold its Wellsboro,
plant in 1981 to Osram Sylvania, and the ‘Ribbon Machines’ continue today
turning out light bulbs and ornament blanks.
Many collectors are smitten
with vintage Corning ornaments, the Shiny Brite brand in particular, as they can
be found in a multitude of shapes and sizes and a myriad of colors and
decorations ~ including stripes and solids, matt tempera colors and shiny
lacquers, textured glass-glitter frit, printed scenes and greetings, and even
some rare, hard-to-find hand-painted motifs.
To those of us that enjoyed our childhoods during the 1940s, ‘50s or
‘60s, Shiny Brite ornaments recall
the days of Grandma, and truly represent our Christmases of long ago…
Be sure to visit our
year-around Christmas Nostalgia booths
at various Antique Malls in the Middle Tennessee/Kentucky area for a large
selection of vintage and antique glass Christmas ornaments of all styles.
For more information see our ad on the front cover and join us in
experiencing “All the Glitz and Glitter of Days Gone By”... And a Merry
Christmas to all!