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Whitall Tatum Company

Map of the Whitall Tatum Lower Glassworks circa 1886.

The Whitall Tatum Company, or Whitall Tatum, was the first glass factory in America. It operated from the early 1800s through 1938, located in Millville, NJ. The location was ideal for making glass because silica-based sand is plentiful in southern New Jersey, the Maurice River flowing through Millville provided a source of water, and plentiful forests provided energy for industrial processes. The Millville glass works was started in 1806 by James Lee and went through several changes of ownership. In 1838, John M Whitall became a partner in the business. He lived in Philadelphia and worked at the company's headquarters there. In 1845 after his brother Israel Franklin Whitall joined, the firm became Whitall, Brother & Company. Later, Edward Tatum also joined the partnership and in 1857 the name was again changed to Whitall Tatum & Company and later in 1900 to Whitall Tatum Company. I.F. Whitall and Edward Tatum headed the company after John M Whitall retired in 1865, and the ownership was passed to their descendents.

Electrical insulator made by Whitall Tatum, circa 1922

Whitall Tatum produced bottles, jars, and vials throughout much of the 19th century. Antique bottle collectors prize the Whitall Tatum druggist, perfume, chemical and other types of bottles. The company developed several innovations in formulas used to make the glass, and in the manufacturing methods for bottles. At first bottles were cast in metal molds, which left a casting line, and later ceramic and wood casts were developed for flint glass which allowed the glass to be moulded without a casting line. Glass types included flint glass, blue and green glass, and artistic colored swirls, used for decoration and paperweights often made by the glass workers during their lunch hour.

Whitall Tatum mass-produced special-order prescription bottles for hundreds of pharmacies, such as Smith & Hodgson in downtown Philadelphia, embossed with their names and addresses and also marked "W.T. & Co." on the base. These mostly date from 1875 up to 1900. In 1901 the company name was changed to Whitall Tatum Company and the base marking became "W.T.CO.", and for a decade from the 1920s on, the trademark became a "W" and "T" inside a triangle.

Whitall Tatum entered the insulator manufacturing market in 1922, mass-producing them for use on power and communications lines across the country. Armstrong Cork Corporation purchased Whitall-Tatum in 1938, continuing insulator production under the Armstrong trademark. Production continued after a 1969 purchase by Kerr Glass Manufacturing Co. until about 1976.

The former Whitall Tatum plant in Millville was purchased by a series of companies, including American National Can Company. Ball-Foster purchased the factory in 1995, and in 1999, after 193 years of nearly continuous glass production, the factory was shut down. The buildings where the WT glass furnaces sat have been demolished.

References

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