L. Straus & Sons – Hoboken Glass Cutting Operation (May 1894 – May, 1897)

 

With the increased interest in Straus cut glass because of the popularity of their glass at the 1893 World’s Fair Columbian Exposition, L. Straus and Sons outgrew their factory on Jay Street in New York City and in May 1894 they moved to Hoboken, New Jersey. The move received a lot of trade press that is produced below. While there is some duplication and while some of the minor details may vary from article to article, each contains unique information about the Hoboken factory.

In February 15, 1894 a teaser article appeared in the Crockery and Glass Journal about the upcoming move from Jay Street to Hoboken. While it didn’t address the move directly, it read:

The present date is somewhat too early to speak of matters which as yet are only in embryo, but we can at least give a hint as to what the future may bring forth in the glass cutting department of L. Straus & Sons. For the present this hint may be summed up in the one word ‘increase,’ and details will come later.”

The move had begun and was announced in the Crockery and Glass Journal of April 19, 1894 as follows:

Mr. Siegel, the managing head of the glass cutting factory of L. Straus & Sons, has been enjoying himself recently much after the same fashion as a man who moves twice a year. The move he has been making is that of the Jay Street plant from the building where they have been for several years to the new and commodious factory in Hoboken, where they will have one of the finest establishments of the kind in the United States. When everything is in shipshape order and ready for the reception of visitors we will give our readers a full description of the building and the class of work which they will produce in connection with their glass cutting plant.”

By May 9, 1894 the move had taken place and here is how it was announced in the Jeweler’s Circular of that date:

Last week saw the removal of the cut glass factory of L. Straus & Sons, from 14 Jay St., New York to 12th and 13th Sts., Hoboken, N. J. This factory, which is 425 feet long extends through from 12th to 13th St., in the block between Hudson and Washington Sts. It is 35 feet wide and has entrances on both of the former streets. The top floor, which is fitted up with the most approved machinery for glass cutting, contains nearly 15,000 square feet and has 91 windows. It is claimed to be the largest glass cutting establishment in one space in the world. In the same building L. Straus & Sons will have their china and glass decorating works, for which the finest kilns are now being constructed.”

The May 10, 1894 Crockery and Glass Journal contained the following article:

Hoboken was for years the one city in Jersey which was made the butt of those foreigners to the gallant little State who wanted to be funny and make alleged witticisms at the expense of those who lived within her borders. But Hoboken is coming to the front now as a manufacturing centre, and the last and best thing that her citizens point to with special pride is the new Elysian Building which runs between Twelfth and Thirteenth streets and Washington and Hudson streets. The building, which is just completed and ready for occupancy, has been erected especially for manufacturing purposes by Mr. John C. Crevier, has an end frontage of thirty-five feet, with a side frontage in the length of 425 feet, and is five stories in height. Each floor has an area of 13,400 square feet, with eighty-six windows. This makes it one of the largest structures of the kind in the United States, and it is equipped with every known appliance, mechanical and otherwise, which has been devised to make it perfect in every particular.

It is in this building that Messrs. L. Straus & Sons have moved their glass cutting plant and are now establishing their special decorating shops. The glass cutting frames from the old Jay Street plant are all in position on the top floor of the new factory, and nearly a hundred of them were in operation last Monday when we went over to visit the works; and the men at the frames looked as if they had been released from Cimmerian shades and brought into a paradise of sunlight and cheerful atmosphere. Three entire floors of the building are devoted to glass cutting and decorating, including the kiln room in the basement, which was built especially for the purpose. The southern section of the fourth floor is taken up by the new decorating establishment, which is 212 feet in length by 35 in width, with all the light and ventilation that is possible to get in a building not made entirely of glass. Mr. Charles Craddock, formerly the managing decorator of the Wheeling Pottery, is to have charge of this department, from which will come all special decorations for the big house in Warren Street, the hotel department, and all the china and glass departments under the control of L. Straus & Sons. Taking them altogether, the features and advantages of this new plant make it one of the finest industrial establishments in the country; and it would not be all surprising to see the entire building filled up with industries which are now operated directly or partly by Messrs. L. Straus & Sons.”

Finally, on July 4, 1894 the Jeweler’s Circular contained a more extensive article on the Hoboken factory that went like this:

Overlooking the Hudson River, at Hoboken, N. J., stands a factory 425 feet long. It is a five story building, which on account of its great length, attracts no little attention. This is the new cut glass factory of L. Straus & Sons, New York, spoken of in THE CIRCULAR of , directly after the removal of the plant from Jay St., New York City.

These new works occupy the top floor of the building which was especially designed as a glass cutting shop. The floor extends from 12th to 13th Sts. of the block between Washington and Hudson Sts., close to the northern boundary of Hoboken. The loft, of which an interior view appears on this page, is 35 feet wide and contains 91 windows. It has a capacity for about 175 frames of which about 100 are now in operation employing as many hands. Like few factories of its kind, light and air are here abundant, every workman having a window to himself. The photograph from which the engraving herewith was made was taken from the south end of the building and shows the ‘smoothers’ at work. Beyond, toward the center of the building are the ‘roughers,’ while still further at the north end of the loft are the ‘polishers.’

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Caption: Interior view of the glass cutting factory
of L. Straus & Sons in Hoboken

Crockery and Glass Journal, July 4, 1894

Polishing being a somewhat a dangerous work owing to the amount of lead in the preparation with which the work is done, and which spatters and is liable to get into the lungs of the operator, the polishers are by themselves and have a greater amount of light, air and room than either the ‘roughers’ or the ‘smoothers.’ The motive power running the machines is supplied from a 250 horsepower Corliss engine located in the basement of the building.

The factory which has now all possible facilities has a capacity for turning out double the amount of work that it had at its former location in New York. It is under the direct supervision of Benj. Davies, the foreman, who is also designer of L. Straus & Sons’ many cuttings.

On the floor below the cutting shop are situated the store rooms and the china and glass decorating works of the same firm. In connection with the latter are two kilns in a one-story building next to the basement.”

The quality of the glass cut at the Hoboken factory continued to excel as is demonstrated by this May 9, 1895 article that appeared in the Crockery and Glass Journal:

A BUYER’S OPINION

“We met a buyer last Monday morning who had just been into the cut glass department of L. Straus & Sons, and he told us that he had just bought nearly all of the stock on hand and in the store at the time. He supplemented his remark by saying that he regarded their cutting as the best he had ever handled. We could not say more than this or put it more strongly if we were to print a volume of words.”

A March 15, 1896 article in the Crockery and Glass Journal describes more honors bestowed on the Straus cut glass:

IMPERIAL HONORS TO THE ‘STRAUS’ CUT GLASS

“News has reached here from St. Petersburgh, Russia, that several pieces of American cut glass manufactured by L. Straus & Sons, of this city, have been greatly admired by the aristocratic visitors at the International Bazaar, which was recently held under the auspices of the Empress of Russia. The American stall, which was presided over by Mrs. Breckenridge, wife of the American ambassador at St. Petersburgh, contained many different kinds of goods of American manufacture, but more attention and admiration was bestowed upon the ‘Straus’ cut glass than anything else in the whole bazaar. A large punch set, consisting of a 16-inch punch bowl on stand, with ladle, tray and twenty-four punch cups in ‘Americus’ cutting was bought for the Emperor of Russia for 1,000 roubles. A 48 inch vase was at once spoken for by the Governor of the Imperial glass factory as a sample for shape and cutting. This gentleman, who is a practical glassmaker, expressed himself to the effect that he had never seen anything in cut glass which in beauty of design, depth of cutting, and polish could be called the equal of this piece, and for this reason he selected it for his collection of rare pieces of glassware. Another, but smaller, punch bowl of the ‘Olympus’ cutting likewise commanded a very high price from a personage of high rank in the aristocracy of Russia. Ambassador Breckenridge, it was said, expressed his regrets that he did not order a larger quantity of ‘Straus’ American cut glass for if he had the proceeds of his stall would have been considerably higher than the already important amount which he tuned over to the managers of the fair to be used for charitable purposes.

When the aristocracy of Europe, who are very fastidious in their selection of cut table glassware, look upon American cut glass with so much favor, we have good reason to be proud of our home industry. The Messrs. Straus are certainly to be congratulated for having brought honors to this important business.

Upon inquiry at Messrs. Straus & Sons, Mr. H. Siegel, the manager of their cut glass works told us that the pieces sent to St. Petersburgh were not especially made for that purpose, but were taken from their stock, as there was not sufficient time to make new pieces.”

The Strauses immediately began advertising in the trade papers about their overwhelming success in Russia. Many of their ads contained statements similar to the one contained in their Jeweler’s Circular ad of April 1, 1896 that said:

The Straus Cut Glass is the first and only American Cut Glass used by H.I.M. the Czar of Russia, and greatly admired by the Imperial Court.”

Unfortunately L. Straus & Sons did not have a long stay in their new and modern factory in Hoboken. On May 20, 1897 the building was destroyed by fire. The May 21, 1897 New York Times had a lengthy article about the fire. Selected portions follow:

“BIG FIRE IN HOBOKEN. Whole Block Swept Away and Over One Hundred Families Made Homeless. Firemen Were Powerless. Flames Started in a Factory and Communicated to a Row of Tenement Houses. All the buildings proved to be veritable tinderboxes. The Flames Broke Out In a Closet in the Factory – Found by a Watchman, Who Believed He Had Thoroughly Stamped Them Out – Total Loss About $650,000.

Hoboken was visited by the largest fire in her history last night. It was rather a series of three fires, one growing out of the other. One Hundred and twenty-eight families were made homeless, and the loss is estimated at about $650,000.

The first two fires were in the block formed by Hudson Street on the west, Washington Street on the east, with Twelfth and Thirteenth Streets on the south and north, respectively. In this block there was a five-story brick factory, on the Hudson Street side, and a row of fourteen tenement houses, separated from it by a yard about twenty-five feet, facing on Washington Street. The factory burned first, and the heat set the tenements on fire. The burning buildings were like tinderboxes, and burned fiercely. A strong southeast wind carried the flames and sparks up along the river’s edge and set fire to five canal-boats lying along the Weehawken flats. There were burned to the water’s edge, and they set fire to some sheds along the West Shore Railroad tracks. The Hoboken Fire Department, though reinforced by engines from Jersey City and West Hoboken, could do nothing to put out the flames, and devoted itself to saving adjoining buildings. …

The factory was also of brick, five stories in height, and ran the entire length of the block, from Twelfth to Thirteenth Streets, 425 feet. According to Fire Chief Applegate, the factory building afforded a special opportunity for a fire. The flooring was of three-inch pine planks, with pine joists as supports. There was not a brick partition in the entire structure. What few there were, were of wood, and put in by the occupants as occasion demanded.

The factory was occupied by four firms, Ward, Leonard & Co. used the Thirteenth Street end of the first floor, while Paul & Gallagher used the other end. Both of these firms are engaged in the manufacture of shoe brushes. Benton, Heath & Co., wallpaper manufacturers, occupied the southern half of the second, third and fourth stories. Nathan Straus & Co. were the occupants of the other part of the second story and the entire fifth floor. They used it as a glass-cutting establishment to supply the firm of R. H. Macy & Co. in this city. …

In the meantime, the boilers in the factory exploded and cracked the walls of the building. Every effort then was made to save the tenements. But fire broke out almost simultaneously along the entire row. The rear of No. 1207 blazed most fiercely, and in less than five minutes the interior of the house was a roaring furnace. …

The walls of the factory fell with a crash shortly before 10 o’clock, and the walls of the tenement followed in sections soon after. While all this was occurring the news came of the burning canal boats, and shortly afterward the rumored fire along the Lake Shore track. Chief Applegate shook his head sadly and said ‘I guess they will find out that four engines won’t do for the City of Hoboken after this. I can do nothing further.’ …

What Isidor Straus Says.

Isidor Straus, who with Nathan Straus, constitutes the firm of R. H. Macy & Co., said last night that their loss on the factory would not exceed $40,000. The loss is covered by insurance placed in a number of companies.

 The shop in the factory was used in part for china decorating and as a glass-cutting establishment.

L. Straus & Sons – 525 – 535 59th Street Glass Cutting Operation (May 1897 – February 1904)

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Caption: L. Straus & Sons New Cut Glass Factory
on West 59th Street, New York

Crockery and Glass Journal, August 12, 1897

 It wasn’t long before the Straus family found a new location in New York City and opened another cut glass factory. On June 30, 1897 the following article appeared in the Jeweler’s Circular:

During the present week L. Straus & Sons expect to have in operation their new cut glass factory, which is situated at 59th St. and the North River, New York. This, it is expected, will now be the permanent home of the Straus glass works, the new factory being amply spacious and the capacity about the same as their former factory in Hoboken, N. J., which recently burned down. The salesrooms in which the factory’s product will be shown will continue to be at 42-48 Warren St., New York.”

The following July 22, 1897 Crockery and Glass article attests to the speed of the Straus family in resuming their cut glass business and provides the exact building address:

The enterprise with which the firm of L. Straus & Sons conduct the various branches of their business is well known, yet the energy displayed in resuming their cut glass business outranks all their previous records. It will be remembered that only a few weeks ago their plant in Hoboken was destroyed by fire. Before the embers were cold they were looking about for a new place, and two weeks ago the engines were started in a large six-story building at 525 to 535 West Fifty-ninth Street. They are now prepared to take orders for all the favorite cuttings and fill them promptly. As the season rolls on new designs will be added, and as they never recede, it may safely be promised that many more things will be shown.

The August 12, 1897 Crockery and Glass Journal provides additional information about the new factory and extols upon the modernization of the plant:

We congratulate Messrs. L. Straus & Sons upon the speedy re-establishment of their cut glass works. As the readers of the JOURNAL will recollect, their factory at Hoboken, N. J., was totally destroyed by fire in May of this year, and it was not found advisable to rebuild on the same spot they set to work to find another place for the production of their American cut glass. It must be admitted that it is not an easy task to replace such a factory even if six or eight months be devoted to the purpose. Hence, to have a new plant in full working order in a little over two months is a feat deserving of commendation. True, the main building of the present factory was already standing; yet alterations to make it suitable were necessary; and if one but considers that new machinery, new tools, and everything else that makes up a complete plant of a cut glass factory had to be made new and installed, the magnitude of the task will be realized.

We present a picture of Messrs. Straus’s new factory, and by courtesy of the manager, Mr. H. Siegel, we had the pleasure of inspecting the new works. They are situated in this city, on West 59th Street, adjacent to the Hudson. The cutting shops are on the upper floors of the main building, and as both sides are replete with wide, high windows, the light is splendid. One of the principal requirements for the cutting of glass of a high grade is good light, as the quality of the work depends not alone upon the skill of the glass-cutter, but in a great measure upon the light of the shop as well. In a poorly-lighted establishment the best cutter will work at a disadvantage. We believe that the light in Messrs. Straus’s factory is the best that can be had. The arrangement of the place is somewhat similar to their old shop in Hoboken, but we noticed several modern improvements in the way of machinery, etc., which were not in the old place. What struck us at first glance was the comfortable space which each glass-cutter occupied. The foreman seems to be of the opinion that a glass-cutter is hampered in his work if he is not given ample room – a fact which everybody will appreciate who sees the working of a cutting shop. On the floors below the cutting shops are stock-rooms, packing rooms, etc., while the outhouses contain the boilers, engine rooms, etc. The factory is in full operation, preparing a fall stock, and we are authorized to state that the firm will come into the market with several new and attractive patterns and cuttings.”

Straus cut glass was so popular that not only the salesmen were figuratively “stealing” it as we saw in an earlier article, but real thieves were after Straus cut glass as well as can be seen in this July 1, 1901 Crockery and Glass Journal article:

“Ever since February 27 detectives have been looking for the thieves who stole $1,000 worth of cut glass from the factory of L. Straus & Sons, on West Fifty-ninth Street, and a few days ago they ran them down. Four men have been arrested and two are said to have confessed. The prisoners are John Harford, Edward Callahan, Henry Snyder and William Kealey. It is said that Snyder, who was a porter in the factory, engaged the watchman in conversation while the other three men carried the glassware out through the Sixtieth Street entrance to a house in West Seventeenth Street, occupied by Harford. When the detectives broke into the latter’s rooms they found them filled with cut glass.”

Thieves and policemen even had a tough time at the turn of the century as was demonstrated in this July 18, 1901 Crockery and Glass Journal follow up article on the robbery:

THE STOLEN GLASS RECOVERED

Glass and pottery are usually pretty safe from burglars because they are difficult to handle in transportation, and pottery particularly has so many distinctive features that it is readily traced. The Straus American cut glass is very attractive, but with the difficulty that thieves would have in disposing of it because of its well known patterns, nearly every dealer in the country handling it, the danger of robbery was considered about on a par with that of locomotives or seven-inch cannon. Five over confident men, however, are now under arrest for the burglary of Straus’s cutting shop on Fifty-ninth Street, which was entered on Feb. 27th and a thousand dollars worth of glass taken. The robbery was effected despite the presence of a watchman, who was supposed to make his rounds once an hour, and the thieves were able to load a truck and drive away without detection.

 

A humorous side of the matter is that the police actually aided the men in getting away with the stuff though at the time they, of course, did not know it was stolen. When the truck containing the glass was being driven away it collided with a trolley car. The police helped to untangle the wagon and car, and came very near arresting the motorman. While the officers of the law were venting their spleen on the latter one of the thieves unhitched the horse, stole a wagon, came back and reloaded the glass and drove away. Very little of the glass was broken in the mix-up. Detectives were put on the case and last week the thieves were arrested. The glass was all recovered though some of the pieces were smashed.”

Despite the popularity of the Straus cut glass among the aristocracy and the thieves, fire once again plagued the Straus cut glass operation. On February 23, 1904 the entire building at 59th Street burned to the ground and it was time for the Straus family to pick another location for their glass cutting operation.

Here is what the Crockery and Glass Journal had to say on February 25, 1904 about the fire: “L. Straus & Sons lost their cutting shop in Fifty-ninth Street by fire on Tuesday morning. Nothing is left of the building but one wall. Before the fire was out preparations were made to get a new place, and it is expected that the works will be running again inside of a month. They were insured for about $25,000.”

L. Straus & Sons – Thirty-Sixth Street and North River Glass Cutting Operation (March 1904 – August 1905)

Only three weeks after the fire a Straus ad appeared in the Crockery and Glass Journal which contained the new Straus cut glass factory location. On March 17, 1904 the ad said: “Cut Glass Works, Thirty-sixth Street and North River, New York City.” The following article in the Crockery and Glass Journal of March 24, 1904 quickly followed the Straus ad:

The L. Straus & Sons have their cutting shop nearly ready and will soon be at work. In the meantime they are filling orders from reserved stock. Their new premises are an improvement over the old place.”

Again with lightning speed the Strauses recovered from the disaster and with each new factory they made improvements to the facilities offered to their workers. These changes were taking place as the Strauses celebrated the 30th anniversary of the opening of the china and glass department within Macy’s.

Nothing else about the Thirty-sixth Street factory has been found in the documents reviewed to date. The last time this factory is mentioned was in a Straus ad dated August 17, 1905 that appeared in the Crockery and Glass Journal.

L. Straus & Sons – 794 – 804 10th Avenue Glass Cutting Operation (September 1905 – March 1912)

On September 14, 1905 the Crockery and Glass Journal has a Straus ad that has the following address for another cut glass factory location: Tenth Avenue and Fifty-fourth Street. There was nothing in the trade papers that gives a reason as to why the Strauses moved.

Many different addresses ranging from 794-800 to 794-804 Tenth Avenue were given for this glass cutting operation in the advertisements that spanned the seven years of their operation on Tenth Avenue. It is uncertain if the various locations were errors made by the copywriters or if the operation was continually expanding and contracting.

For the third time disaster strikes the Strauses glass cutting operation. On March 7, 1912 the Crockery and Glass Journal reports:

Fire late on Friday night, March 1st, completely destroyed the cutting shop of L. Straus & Sons, at Tenth Avenue, between fifty-third and fifty-fourth streets. The flames were first discovered in a restaurant adjoining the factory before the engines arrived and spread so that both buildings were gutted. The New York Coach and Auto Lamp Co. occupied about one-fifth of the building. L. Straus & Sons immediately sought new quarters and will soon be at work again. They were fully insured.”

L. Straus & Sons – 9 – 13 Desbrosses Street (Desbrosses, Vestry and Greenwich Streets) Glass Cutting Operation (March 1912 – Unknown)

 

The fact that their glass cutting operation was still a vital part of the Straus operation can be attested to by the article in the March 21, 1912 Crockery and Glass Journal:

“L. Straus & Sons were so active in re-establishing a cutting plant that in less than a week after their fire they had leased a fully equipped factory in Brooklyn and immediately began work. But, this is only temporary. They will shortly have a big factory in New York in operation as they have secured a building not far from their Warren Street store, which will give them more than 25,000 square feet of space and allow many more frames than they had before. The new building is admirably lighted with good ventilation and has all the modern improvements.”

The first Straus ad to contain the new factory location of Desbrosses, Vestry and Greenwich Streets appeared in the March 12, 1912 Pottery, Glass & Brass Salesman. The last ad found, to date, giving this factory location was in the December 18, 1919 Crockery and Glass Journal.

The date of exactly when L. Straus & Sons closed the door of their cut glass factory has yet to be found. It is feasible that new information could still be discovered and a final closing date could be recorded for history.