Greenpoint became home to five industrial “black arts” in the 19th century, and one of those black arts was glass production. (Printing, pottery making, oil refining, and cast iron manufacturing are the others.) Our area became one of the first places in the United States where artistic glass was produced. Some of the finest pieces of glass ever smelted in America were locally produced, and today they are still prized pieces in museums around the country.
One of the most famous nineteenth century glass factories—the Greenpoint Glass Works—was located at 95 Commercial Street. Founded about 1852 by Christian Dorflinger (1828-1915), an immigrant from Alsace. He Started in Manhattan, but needing more space expanded his now sizable workshop to the edge of Newtown Creek in 1860. Greenpoint Glass Works was larger than his other two plants and also enjoyed a waterfront location with docking facilities. The operation also included kilns and a large assembly line. Because this area of Greenpoint was sparsely developed, Dorflinger had to build housing near the factory for his workers, many of whom were French.
By the 1860s, Dorflinger was so successful that the annual output of his factories was valued at $300,000, and the quality of his glass was so highly regarded that Mary Todd Lincoln commissioned the Greenpoint firm to produce table settings for the White House. At the country’s centennial celebration—the 1876 International Exposition held in Philadelphia—the Dorflinger Glass Company received a “certificate of award” for the excellence of its wares. Dorflinger’s fluted glassware even graced the royal train of the British Duke of Windsor. However, Dorflinger’s health began to fail and he retired to a farm in White Mills, Pennsylvania, in 1863. His Greenpoint Glass Works were taken over by Amory Houghton, who would go on to gain international fame as the founder of The Corning Glass Corporation. He might have stayed in Greenpoint, but costs there were high and he relocated upstate.
The Greenpoint works were eventually leased to two of his former employees, Jean B. Dobbelmann and Nathaniel S. Bailey. In 1882 the ownership changed hands again and it came into the possession of the Elliot P. Gleason Manufacturing Co., but it was still known as the Greenpoint Glass Works. There were also many other local glass firms too. By 1883, eighteen of the twenty glass factories in Brooklyn were located in Greenpoint.
In 1902, the firm became the Gleason-Tiebout Co. and produced lamps and bulbs only. Gleason-Tiebout continued its operations in Greenpoint until 1946 when it moved across Newtown Creek to Queens. Today 95 Commercial Street is home to a fine restaurant called in honor of its past: Glasserie.