In 1887, L. B. Martin and W. S. Brady founded the Fostoria Glass Company in Fostoria, Ohio. When the area’s natural gas deposits ran out, Fostoria moved to Wheeling, West Virginia, and then to Moundsville, West Virginia, in 1891, where it remained until it closed in 1983.
The factory in Moundsville opened with a furnace that could fire 14 pieces of glass at once, which was quite impressive at the time. Fostoria’s first products were kerosene lamps and lamp parts, but the company’s line soon expanded to include “tableware, colognes, stationers’ glassware, and candelabra,” as one of its advertisements touted.
In 1915, Fostoria introduced the American pattern of glassware, which was not discontinued until the factory shut its doors in 1983; this remarkable 68-year run makes American the longest continually produced pattern in the domestic glassware industry. Fostoria’s early tableware pieces, including these early American items, were generally either needle etched or wheel cut.
By 1920, Fostoria had expanded to a large factory with five furnaces, producing stemware, decorative lamps, container glass, and tableware. The company’s management—headed by president W. A. B. Dalzell—realized it had to think strategically in order to keep customer demand high enough for the factory to produce at capacity. With this motivation, Fostoria began an advertising campaign the likes of which had never been seen before in the glass industry—Fostoria’s marketing style would later be imitated by many of its major competitors.
While most firms sold their glassware through sales representatives, who would sell the products of multiple companies, Fostoria created its own closed system. The company chose which stores could sell its goods and trained its salesmen to be experts in the product.
In 1924, Fostoria expanded its product line by introducing colored glassware. The inaugural colors included green, amber, blue, and canary. The colors were a huge hit, and, with the strength of a national advertising campaign behind it, Fostoria products began appearing in influential magazines like “Good Housekeeping” and “Ladies’ Home Journal.”
Colored glassware fit snugly into the market—due to the rise of industry and the workdays it entailed, fewer American families were having luncheons and afternoon teas than in th...
In 1925, Fostoria employed 650 workers and was second in the industry, behind the Cambridge Glass Company. Building on its success, the company continued to introduce new colors of glassware, including orchid (1927); rose (also known as dawn) and azure (1928); and regal blue, empire green, and burgundy (1933).
At the same time, carnival glass was having its heyday, so Fostoria produced two lines: Taffeta Lustre, which included bowls, candlesticks, and console sets, and its Brocaded designs, which included Brocaded Acorns, Palms, Summer Garden, and more.
With its strong market position, Fostoria was in good shape when the Great Depression struck. While the company was not immune to the downturn, it weathered the economic climate and emerged still in business. During the Depression, Fostoria produced glassware that was still of high quality, especially in comparison with the cheaper, budget products of its competitors.
Just a few years later, World War II cut Fostoria’s workforce almost in half, but that did not stop the company from continuing to innovate. In the early 1940s, Fostoria released several new patterns of glassware, including Chintz (1940), Colony (1940), Romance (1942), and Holly (1942). These followed on the heels of the distinctive Baroque style, which was introduced in 1937 and featured a signature fleur-de-lis in its design.
After World War II came to a close, Fostoria began its most aggressive period of expansion. The company’s size and production peaked in 1950, with more than 900 workers and about eight million pieces of glass sold that year. The company continued to introduce new styles, including Century (1950), Rose (1951), Wedding Ring (1953), and Jamestown (1959).
Throughout the 1960s, Fostoria sold millions of pieces of glass each year to American consumers, including a few particularly noteworthy figures: Presidents Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard Nixon both obtained exquisite glass ashtrays engraved with their signatures from Fostoria.
Always a leader in marketing, the company expanded its efforts yet again by adding company boutiques and display rooms to department stores. Even more innovative was the company’s new consumer-direct magazine, “Creating with Crystal,” which was highly successful as a marketing tool.
Faced with increasing competition from foreign companies, however, Fostoria began to decline in the 1970s—the Lancaster Colony Corporation eventually bought the company. The factory closed altogether in 1983, though some of its patterns—including American—continued to be produced by Dalzel-Viking, thanks to a contract with Lancaster Colony. The early 1990s saw the last trickle of Fostoria pattern production.
In general, Fostoria’s colored stemware and dinner pieces are more prized by collectors today than their clear counterparts. Some people like to amass entire sets of Fostoria products in one color, while others focus instead on specific pieces in a variety of colors. In particular, early pieces from the American set are especially popular with contemporary collectors.