The brand new community of Jeannette grew at a rapid pace in its early years. This community that started in 1888, grew from farmlands and a handful of pioneer glass workers to a population of some 3,000.
During the same year, the Pennsylvania Railroad constructed a station on the mail line. Jeannette became known as the "fastest growing community on the main line".
H. Sellers McKee noted the waste of natural gas in the Grapeville field and decided to bring his glass making factories to this land from the Southside (Birmingham), Pittsburgh, to build a City. On August 30, 1887, application was made for a charter for the Western Land and Improvement Company, which was granted in 1888. About five hundred acres of land was purchased and engineers began at once to lay out the ground for factory and house sites. Mr. McKee wished to honor his wife by giving the new town her name, so it was named Jeannette. The engineers laid out the Streets of the new town and named one after every one of the incorporators. Early in June, 1888, the first public sale of lots was held. Men and women came from near and far to attend, thus Jeannette was launched.
By the turn of the century, Jeannette's economy was centered around four glass manufacturing plants and the construction, trade and service activities needed by a growing community. Following 1990, Jeannette's economy, rail service and the community's proximity to Pittsburgh brought additional, diversified industry to the area. The city soon grew to house seven glass companies and largest tableware glass factory in the world. Today, Jeannette has a population of 9,500.
Originally dubbed the "Glass City", because it was founded on a glass manufacturing center, the diversification of the manufacturing and industry earned the City the proud title "An American Workshop". As Jeannette became a leader in the glasswork industry it continued to heighten its innovations. In the early 1900’s, Jeannette became the location of the first company to produce sheet glass. This process was established using the Lubbers cylinder machine. Later the process was refined to the increase sturdiness and reduced the green tint of sheet glass. This innovation proved to be highly influential and was adopted by the entire glass industry. In the mid 1900’s Jeannette became the home of the only glass factory that produced flat, plate, sheet, and patterned-rolled glass. Previously known as one of the world’s largest producers of glass, the industries that populated the city have gone through changing times and with the loss and merging of companies and now only two glass factories remain in Jeannette.
Jeannette also was home to other notable companies such as The Pennsylvania Rubber Works in 1903 and The Elliott Company (as it is known today) in 1914. These two companies helped to increase Jeannette’s footprint as an industrial strength. Products such as sports balls, gas masks, steam engines, and the first diesel-engine turbocharger became the fruits of their success. Today Jeannette still thrives due to its industrial history. With the assistance of the State and County, the city continues to maintain an industrial foothold where several former glass factories once stood.
The city hosts a considerable amount of annual parades and community activities. In recent years, the city has become a mecca for local artists and musicians. Furthering the unique culture in Jeannette, many former downtown businesses and department stores have been transformed in to antique galleries and loft apartments. The City now boasts a modern, unique culture which allows the community to build a new identity while progressing into the future.
Jeannette is in south-western Pennsylvania, near Pittsburgh.
John N. Boucher, "History of Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania", The Lewis Publishing Co., 1906. Pages 504-505.
"Jeannette, "the glass city", bears the proud distinction of being the first large manufacturing town within Westmoreland county, the sixth county in population in the state in 1900. It has the largest window glass plant in the world, and the largest pressed glass concern in America. According to government statistics it produces more glass in various forms than any other place in the United States.
"This borough derived its name from the wife of one of the founders, Jeannette being the name of Mrs. McKee, whose husband, H. Sellers McKee, in company with the Western Land and Improvement company of Philadelphia, together with Messrs. Chambers and Brickell of Pittsburgh, purchased in the spring of 1888 the farms of J. F. Thompson, Solomon Longhner and J.F. Gilchrist. The discovery of natural gas at Grapeville brought ready capital to this point. The land company established an office in an old brick farm house, which then stood in an orchard near where the Presbyterian church now stands. The building of the Chambers and McKee Glass Works was the first move toward town building in Jeannette. In June 1888, the company commenced to erect a long row of brick dwelling houses, and all wondered who were going to occupy such fine houses. Lots sold at first at $400, but before a year rolled by they sold at $1,200. The phenomenal growth of Jeannette was only equaled by the building of Vandergrift and Monessen at a little later period. The question of fuel, always a factor to be counted in any factory town, was solved by generous nature long years ago, for within two miles of Jeannette are situated vast coal beds of the best gas producer in Pennsylvania. As to coke, another essential, the borough is near the famous Connellsville coke district, making freight merely a nominal sum, while the natural gas lines entering the place afford cheap fuel in that class. The place was plotted in April, 1888, and by the same month in 1889 fully four thousand people called the place their home. It now numbers between seven and eight thousand, and, including its suburbs, fully ten thousand. Its banks are: The First National, established in 1889, on $50,000 capital. To-day (1905) it has $75,000 undivided profits and $375,000 in deposits. The Jeannette National Bank commenced business about 1900. It has $50,000 capital. The Jeannette Savings and Trust Company opened for business July 10, 1903. The capital is now $135,000.
"There are seven great glass factories. It may be stated that these, with the Rubber plant, are what the business life of the borough depends on. The largest tableware glass factory in the world is that of the McKee-Jeannette Glass Works. This was the pioneer plant of the place, and was then known as the McKee Brothers' Works. The first glass produced was in September, 1888. It covers six acres of ground, has six furnaces of 109 pot capacity, and employs from five to six hundred men. Its monthly payroll in $25,000. Eighty per cent. of its product is sold in America, and twenty per cent. exported to its show rooms in all the large European cities. They make what is known as press-cut glass goods, a real rival, as they claim, to the genuine cut glass.
"The American Window Glass Company has the largest single window glass plant in the world. The immense building is of brick and stone. Blowing mechanisms are used here in the production of fine window glass. Five years ago the plant came into its present, it formerly being the Chambers-McKee Glass Company. They employ about one thousand men.
"The Pittsburgh Lamp, Brass and Glass Company, formerly Dithridge & Company, moved from Pittsburgh. They make many grades of lamps, shades, stands, chimneys, etc., in both crystal and opal glass. Hundreds of men, girls and boys find steady employment there.
"The Westmoreland Specialty Company, at Grapeville (near by), is another large plant working in glass goods. They make tableware, and novelties in plain and decorated goods.
"The Jeannette Glass Company make fine prescription ware, liquor ovals, "beers", "brandies", "milks", flasks, etc. While competition in the bottle business is sharp in the United States, this firm steadily advances to the front rank.
"The Clifford-Chappelle Fan Company manufactures on a large scale. The celebrated Chappelle fan, used in so many coal mines in North and South America. Recently another twenty-six acre tract of land has been added to accommodate their works.
"One of the most important plants, engaged the year around, is the Pennsylvania Rubber Works, which cover a large area of ground. It was formerly located at Eire, Pennsylvania, moving to Jeannette a few years since. Hundreds of men and women find employment at these extensive works.
"The Fort Pitt Glass Company have a fine plant in North Jeannette. Their works were recently burned, but are being rebuilt."
Jeannette's 75th Anniversary Program June 7-15, 1953
American-Saint Gobain's plant here grew up with the city of Jeanette. In fact, the original field-stone and wood glass-making factory helped establish the town by bringing commerce to the area. Its first owners, Chambers and McKee, named Jeannette's main street after their financial backer, a Mr. Clay. Completed in 1888, the building has played a major role in the growth of the glass industry in the United States.
The factory was designed to be a hand-cylinder operation. In this method, a blob of molten glass was collected on the end of a metal tube. Skilled glass-blowers worked it into a large globe. The pipe was then held in a downward position and swung slowly back and forth while blowing continued. The glass bubble elongated into a cylinder which was split open, reheated and flattened to make window panes. By modern standards this may sound archaic, but it was considered quite sophisticated for its time.
During the first ten years, the Jeannette factory added the tank 4 building, garage and carpenter shop, flattening house, box shop, warehouse and most of the cutting room ground floor. Naturally, alterations and maintenance have been performed on these structures, but to a great extent, they represent the original design.
In 1889, American Window Glass Company was incorporated in Pennsylvania, and consolidated a number of smaller manufacturers, including Chambers-McKee. 1903 brought a major development in the history of glass-making. American Window became the first company to produce sheet glass by machine. Basically an automated hand-cylinder operation, glass was drawn into cylinders by mechanical apparatus, then cut into segments and flattened. The entire glass industry adpoted
the Lubbers machine cylinder process after it was proven at Jeanette.
In 1913, the warehouse was gutted by fire with loss of a million boxes of glass. But the walls remained intact and the structure was rebuilt. The present batch house was built in 1913, the tank 2 building in 1920, and the producer house, boiler house, powerhouse and tank 3 building in 1923.
1927 saw another major step forward in glass production. American Window installed a machine for continuously drawing flat sheets of glass. One of the most important developments was equipment to minimize distortion of waviness, formerly a characteristic of sheet glass. Another improvement was elimination of the greenish cast which affected transparency and light transmission.
Tank 4 was built in 1932 to take one of the new drawing machines. Tank 2 was rebuilt in 1937 for seven machines. From 1928 to 1948, when it was transferred to Ellwood City, laminated safety glass manufacture was carried on at Jeannette. A microscope cover glass department was operated from 1940 to 1949. Between 1923 and 1930, two of the largest glass melting furnaces in the world operated at the plant. They measured 140-feet long, 36-feet wide and five feet deep. Each tank held 1800 tons and could produce 3,240 boxes of single strength glass per day by the Lubbers machine operation. At one time, a total of 32 machines were drawing cylinders up to 34 inches in diameter and 43 feet long.
In 1958, American Window Glass was merged with Blue Ridge Glass to form American-Saint Gobain Corporation, the only United States producer of all three types of flat glass -- plate, sheet and patterned. American-Saint Gobain is presently carrying out a 3-million dollar modernization program of the Jeannette facility. The recently completed No3 furnace, designed to produce heavier weight sheet glass, employs two continuous drawing machines. The main tank, now down for repairs, uses nine drawing machines.