The Libbey Glass building, is an example of this new kind of fair exhibit. It was designed to resemble a palace. Twin towers flanked its entrance and a large 100-foot dome doubled as a chimney for the pavilion’s furnace. Inside, the glass-making process was displayed in its entirety for the fairgoers, from its initial manufacture to the intricate arts of glass blowing and cutting. With shelves full of glass objects, from cut glass vases and bowls to spun glass ceiling coverings and tapestries, and walls covered with mirrors, it was a breathtaking Midway building done completely in transparent, shining glass.
Account of Ricardo Gonzalez,
Libbey Glass Factory
Here is the exhibit of the Libbey Glass company, showing not only its products but a complete working establishment, with modern machinery and apparatus for manufacture. The main vestibule leads into a semi-circular glass-house, or blowing room, with melting furnace in the centre, in the form of a truncated cone. Just within its circumference and a little above the base are the melting pots, enclosed in a metallic canopy, the heat which enters from below being generated from crude petroleum pumped through pipes from Ohio wells. After being subjected to a heat of more than 2,000 degrees of Fahrenheit, the crude materials are in the form of a molten mass, ready for the blow-pipe of the “gatherer,” who reaching into one of the pots, takes up a little of the substance upon the end of his hollow rod and passes it to the blower. The latter rolls it briskly upon an iron slab and then, as required, expands it by blowing through the pipe in a downward position, or contracts it by directing the pipe upward. When the material has reached the proper consistency, it is turned with a solid iron rod, and by means of wooden tools shaped into plaques, plates, and other forms. After leaving the blowing room, all glassware is subjected to a graduated or annealing heat, so tempering it as to resist changes in temperature.
Above the blowing room and the tempering oven are quarters for the cutters with their steel wheels, the smoothers with their wheels of sandstone, and the polishers with wheels of wood, abrading substances being used of various degrees of hardness. A more interesting process than any, though of less practical value, is the manufacture of what is termed glass cloth; but this is too complex here to be described in detail. Other departments belong to the engravers and etchers, and those who decorate the various articles in appropriate colors. Finally there is the crystal art room wherein are displayed the finished products of the factory. Ebony wood work forms an effective setting for the cut-glassware at the sides of the room, the upholsterings and tapestries of spun glass in the centre, and the ceiling decorations made of the same material. At the entrance is a so-called Henry Clay punch-bowl of 1812 in pressed glass, which though of excellent workmanship, is in marked contrast with the cut-glass bowl at its side, recently manufactured by the company. Attention is also attracted to ice-cream sets encased in brass-bound morocco, to sherbet and punch jugs of Roman design, to quaint decanters of Venetian shapes, graceful celery trays, ice-tubs, honey dishes, and a lamp of elaborate pattern designed for a banquet hall. Among articles in spun glass there are curtains, portieres, and decorations for ceilings and walls, with lamp shades and other fancy articles beautifully painted, all of them intended to show the adaptability of spun glass to artistic purposes.
Smoothing and Polishing
Weaving Glass Fabrics (left)
Engraving and Etching (right)
One of the draws to the Libbey exhibit was a dress made of spun glass fibers woven into fabric. It was custom made for Georgia Cayvan, a stage star who had visited the Libbey exhibit, became intrigued by lamp shades made out of spun glass, and requested a dress made of the fiber. Libbey agreed to give Cayvan exclusive rights to wear glass cloth on stage. Princess Eulalia of Spain saw Cayvan’s dress and asked that one be made for her as well. She was so pleased with the result that Libbey Glass was given the right to include the Spanish coat of arms on its advertising.
Princess Eulalia of Spain and Georgia Cayvan (right) in the Glass Dress
From the New York Times, 16 July 1893:
The Libbey Exhibit Constantly Crowded
CHICAGO, July 15—Among so many attractions to be found in Midway Paliassance any one which draws everybody and is a continuous centre of interest is specially distinguished. The Libbey Glass Works enjoys this distinction. It is constantly crowded with visitors who are rewarded by an exposition of the highest art in American glassmaking. This exhibit is made by the Libbey Company and by no other company at the exposition.