Sunday, February 23, 2014

52 Ancestors #4 Glassblowers in the 1800's

Our great grandfather William Henry Coughlin was a glassblower.

He was born in Poughkeepsie New York (August 1872) and emigrated to Wallaceburg, Ontario in 1899  at the age of 27. He would find employment at the Sydenham Glass Company (later to become Dominion Glass).

(Wallaceburg Chimney Shop c.1908)

"Glass In Canada" by Thomas B King (link below)

The story of the glassblower in the 1800s is a fascinating one!

These skilled men were in great demand."Glassblowers were artists who commanded salaries incredible to most manufacturing workers. They also tended to be highly mobile, and Wallaceburg had no trouble attracting qualified men"

The Corning Museum describes working in a glass factory in the 1800s: "Day after day, in the factories of the mid-1800s, teams of skilled men blew hot glass into molds tended by boys. The work was fast and furious. The factories were hellishly hot. And the demand for glass bottles never stopped." Poughkeepsie, New York 1872-1899

The Poughkeepsie Glassworks may have been the place where GG Coughlin would have received his glassblower training but we have no verified proof at present. In fact Poughkeepsie information on the Coughlin family has been quite difficult to locate and verify. We do know that William Henry was baptized at St. Peters Catholic church in Poughkeepsie and we know that he sold newspapers as a young boy in New York City. But much of the period betwen 1872 and 1899 is a mystery yet to be solved.

Glassworks in Wallaceburg, Ontario 1891 - 1913

  • In 1891 the first meeting was held concerning the possibility of creating a glass factory in Wallaceburg, Ontario.
  • In 1893 the Wallaceburg Glass Works Company Limited was incorporated.
  • In 1894 it became the Sydenham Glass Company.
  • Construction of the glassmaking factory began in 1894 and production began in 1895.
  • Actual glass production started September 20, 1895. Then came the rush of glassblowers from all parts of North America.
  • The company produced and shipped patent medicine bottles and fruit jars all over North America.
  • By 1899 they employed 400 workers. This was close to half of Wallaceburg's work force.
  • William Henry emigrated to Canada in 1899 (He was naturalized in 1915)
  • In 1913, the Sydenham Glass Company merged with the  Diamond Glass Company to form Dominion Glass.

Above: The earliest group photo of the Sydenham Glass Co. employees 1901
Pictured below is a summary document of the glassblowers earnings while in the employment of the Sydenham Glass Co. of Wallaceburg for the year 1910 to 1911.

The wages paid ranged from $1361.33 to $458.03. Great Grandfather Coughlin earned $1039.43 (Glassblowers did not work a full year due to the heat in summer.)

As the years passed, Dominion Glass began to move steadily away from glassblower-craftsmen. The Coughlin family eventually moved to Windsor (1918) because glass making had been automated. The need for skilled glassblowers was officially over.

Sadly, the romantic figure of the nomadic glassblower disappeared.

Great grandfather William Henry Coughlin found work at Fords. He would live in Windsor 34 years until his death in January 1952. (The Coughlin-Annal family is pictured below circa 1917 on the left and on the right at Lizzie and Williams 50th wedding anniversary in 1949)

More Coughlin-Annal information will be updated at this link
The Coughlin Family (circa 1917)

The Coughlin Family 1949

Our GG Coughlin appears on the selected list of glassblowers in "Glass In Canada" by Thomas B. King
Glass Links

"Knight's American mechanical dictionary" published 1882
Our Home Physician 1869
Guide to the art of preserving health
Practical Mechanics Journal
Glasgow 1849


  1. Hello. I created a Facebook Group for genealogists who have 18th & 19th century American glassblowers in their trees. Since the trade was in high demand and the skills passed from father to son, the lives of Early American glassblowers were often interconnected as they crossed paths from job to job. Hopefully, using traditional research and genetic genealogy, we'll find more of those connections as we network and share information.

  2. Hello Alan
    I signed up for Facebook Group and thanks so much for inviting me!!