An interesting Article as appeared in the December 2011 issue of the 'Busy Bee Trader' 


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 of Germany were the primary source for glass ornaments, but by the 1920s, Czechoslovakia , Poland and Japan 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 Britain and France . This also curtailed the importing of European Christmas ornaments to the United States .  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 production. Corning 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 Germany 's hostility during the late 1930s, the early Corning ornaments were completely new and modern and did not rely on old European Christmas ornament styles for inspiration.  Corning 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 Corning 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 Corning ’s foray into Christmas Ornament production.  Life stated:

CHRISTMAS ORNAMENTS ~ U.S. NOW MASS-PRODUCES THEM

“The war has reached its long tentacles into the coziest corners of U.S. industry and, as a result, the U.S. this year for the first time in history will be self-sufficient in the matter of Christmas-tree ornaments.  Normally the U.S. consumes from 50,000,000 to 80,000,000 ornaments a year.  Until last year it imported 99% of them from Europe, largely from Germany and Czechoslovakia where they were made by cheap home labor.  Last year the European supply was cut off and America 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 Mt. Wilson , is producing 40,000,000 ornaments.


Finishing Ornaments ~ Grinding Pikes.

          “Unable to find labor as cheap as that in Europe, Corning 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.  At peak, Corning 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 and acorns.”  


Corning's Automated Decorating Machinery

The January 1941 edition of Popular Mechanics continued with the Corning 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 Corning engineers made possible the


At the end of the assembly line, the balls roll 
off the belt like so many glass bubbles and are
packed into cartons.

 ingenious machines which turn a pound of glass into thirty average -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 Europe , 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.”


Christmas 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, Corning 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 Corning blanks for a greater length of time than all other decorators and distributors.  Corning sold its Wellsboro, PA 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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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