Glass Blowing and Greenpoint, a Continued Tradition
Echo Glass Works at 253 Greenpoint Ave. offers a dazzling variety of one-of-a-kind custom glass jewelry, kiln cast glass, along with blown glass vessels that simply stun. However, this is not the first time that beautiful glass has been created in Greenpoint, which has a history of glass blowing dating back to the Civil War. One of the best-known glass factories in America in the 19th century was the Greenpoint Flint Glass Works located on Commercial Street.
The founder of the Greenpoint Flint Glass Works was an immigrant from Alsace, France Christian Dorflinger who set up his first glass blowing plants in downtown Brooklyn in 1852. Benefiting from growing demand for glass between 1856 and 1860, Dorflinger, looking to expand, constructed a new factory on the then undeveloped Newtown Creek at Commercial Street in Greenpoint. This factory was larger than his other two and also enjoyed a waterfront location with docking facilities. Because this area of Greenpoint was sparsely developed, Dorflinger also built housing near the factory for his workers, many of whom were also French immigrants.
Quickly, Dorflinger’s annual output reached $300,000, a huge sum for that era, 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. It helped to establish his company’s reputation for fine cut and engraved lead crystal. Many pieces of the Lincoln pattern glassware still remain in the White House collection today.
The factory though was plagued with many of the problems for workers of the industrial revolution. As many as 40 children toiled among the 105 employees working for Dorflinger. The boys performed menial tasks related to blowing and cooling the glass, while the girls polished the glass. The work was not only dangerous but also very unhealthy. Boys often suffered burns and the air was often full of air born glass that the children inhaled. Many of the workers in the plant suffered from eye ailments due to the huge amount of glass particles floating in the plant’s air.
Glass blowing was not a healthy occupation and Dorflinger’s health also began to fail. He was forced to retire to a farm in White Mills, Pennsylvania, in 1863. The Greenpoint works were eventually leased to two of his former employees, Jean B. Dobbelmann who lived on Dupont Street and Nathaniel S. Bailey, a trustee and vice-president of the Greenpoint Savings Bank who lived at 100 Kent Street.
By 1875, another owner had taken over the glass works business and then in 1882 the plant became the Elliot P; Gleason Manufacturing Co., but it was still commonly known as the Greenpoint Glass Works. The factory produced glass chimneys for kerosene lamps as well as decorative bottles and vases. In 1902, the firm became the Gleason-Tiebout Co., producing lamps and electric bulbs, but no fine glassware. Gleason-Tiebout continued its operations in Greenpoint until 1946 when it moved across Newtown Creek to Queens
Though the glass works is long-closed, you can visit the site of Greenpoint Flint Glass Works at 95 Commercial St. The smokestack and much of the industrial architecture remain, but today a different kind of artistry thrives in the old glass works. The building is now home to Glasserie, a modern Mediterranean restaurant with a name that recalls the site’s rich industrial legacy.