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Photo History: Glass Workers, Hartford City, ca. 1900

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Look at the children in the front row of this group of glass workers. How old do you think they are? Eight or nine years old, maybe? While we would be horrified now to think of young children working in a glass factory—or any place, for that matter—it was common fewer than one hundred years ago. These children worked in the same blistering hot conditions as adults and held numerous jobs in the making of various kinds of glass; including carrying the products from the glass blower to the finisher to the cooling oven. All of this was done for very low pay.

Many of the workers in this photograph were immigrants from Belgium. They came to Hartford City, Indiana, during the Gas Boom of the late 1800s to work at Hartford City Glass Company. Notice the boy holding the tube of window glass. He is Alex Romain, grandfather of Mildred Baxter who donated the photograph to the Minnetrista Heritage Collection. 

Like many glass companies, Hartford City Glass Company experienced a fire. On May 24, 1896, a tank at the factory developed a leak, and the escaping molten glass set fire to the wooden portions of the floor. While men poured water on the fire, the end of the tank gave way and hundreds of tons of molten glass flowed into the pit and came in contact with the pool of water. The generated steam burned several men, some severely. Little damage was done to the factory, however. The company became American Window Glass Factory #3 in 1899 and continued to operate until 1929.