The Imperial Glass Company was founded in 1901 by an ex-riverboat captain Edward Muhleman who had many years’ experience as a director/ manager/ investor in glass companies. The aim was to build a very large, modern glassworks close to the river in Bellaire, Ohio, where there were so many other glassworks that Bellaire was already known as “Glass City”. After three years of planning and building, this new glassworks went into production in 1904, and within a few months became a major player in the glass industry in the USA.
With assistance from the Bellaire Board of Trade and several of his former Crystal Glass Co. stockholders, Muhleman commenced to turn vision into reality. Land was acquired, capital raised, employees hired and the process of building the huge plant was begun. By December 1901, the Crystal’s Board of Directors had changed the name to the Imperial Glass Company. Progress was slow. As 1903 wore on, everyone waited and watched for activity from the giant new plant in Bellaire. By October it appeared production was imminent. Orders awaited, the place fully staffed, moulds were crafted and the furnace tanks ready. In early 1904, two years after the start of construction, the furnaces were finally ignited.
All manner of bottles, tumblers, jelly jars, electric and gas lamps and no less than fifteen full lines of tableware were being turned out. Imperial’s intricate, press molded patterns carried lower prices, enabling the company to reach a wide customer base. They offered higher quality ‘pot’ glass, referred to as ‘mirror’ glass, in addition to their ‘utility’ glass, which was produced from continuous-feed melting tanks.
Starting with clear glass in an extensive range of new tableware and imitation cut designs, they moved on to colored glass and carnival glass in 1909. The early Imperial trademarks were Nuart and Nucut (see left). From 1920 onwards the fourth trademark shown on the left, a double I with the word Imperial, was introduced. Early colored glass from Imperial is not usually marked with a trademark, however. Also during the 1920’s Imperial was confident of its ability to build on its past success. Iridescent ware (i.e. the ‘Old Carnival’) and more colored glassware items would be produced. Some of these colored glass lines were the forerunners of the inexpensive colored glassware that would gain in popularity and later become known as ‘Depression’ glass during the 1930’s. New patents were applied for and the first series of Candlewick were put into production. Imperial’s No. 400 Candlewick was formally introduced at the Wheeling Centennial Celebration in the August of 1936.
Candlewick quickly became a mainstay in Imperial’s line-up of offerings, and proved to be one of its strongest selling patterns. From some 40-odd items at the onset, the range of Candlewick items would exceed over 200 in the 1950’s. The elegant, clear crystal pieces readily lent themselves to a wide variety of etchings, cuttings, flashing and colored pieces. Competing with such popular lines as Fostoria’s ‘American’ and Cambridge’s ‘Rosepoint’, Candlewick would eventually grow into Imperial’s most highly sought-after pattern. Although many other lines would continue to be important to Imperial, Candlewick, together with Cape Cod, would prove strong sellers and a mainstay for the company for almost fifty years.
In the 1950s the trademark IG was introduced and in the 1960’s the company began to re-issue some of its old designs in Carnival Glass. Imperial was careful to apply the IG trademark to most of its re-issues of old designs, but not necessarily to designs that were in continuous production over a long period, like Candlewick (approx.1936-1980’s) and Cape Cod (approx. 1931-1980’s).
Imperial bought the assets of the A. H. Heisey glassworks in 1958 and two years later, those of the Cambridge Glass Company. This brought hundreds of molds for some very successful lines into Imperial, and they continued to produce them under the old identities, as “Heisey by Imperial” and “Cambridge by Imperial”. In the early 1960’s Imperial’s new Slag Glass items quickly became an industry standard for their beauty and quality.
Peachblow vases joined these. A revival of some of Imperial’s original patterns appeared. Called ‘New Carnival’ and ‘Collectors Crystal’, these items were produced from the moulds of some of the old NUCUT and Iridescent ware so popular some fifty years earlier.
In 1973 the diverse manufacturing company Lenox Inc. bought Imperial Glass and over the next few years Imperial moved more into the glass giftware market, and away from its traditional tableware market. An L was added to the Imperial IG trademark during the Lenox years, and it also seems there was a lack of investment in repairs and renovations at Imperial during this period.
In 1981 Lenox sold imperial to Arthur Lorch (who added an A to the trademark, making it ALIG), and after a few more years of struggling against bankruptcy, the company finally closed in 1984 and its assets were sold to Lancaster Colony and Consolidated International. At the liquidation sales, which ensued, the Heisey molds, which had belonged to Imperial, were mostly bought by Heisey Collectors of America and the Cambridge molds by the National Cambridge Collectors Club.
Imperial is famous for a wide range of types of glass, including its imitation cut glass, Depression Glass, Carnival Glass, slag glass, decorated glass, novelty glass animals, stretch glass, milk glass, opalescent glass, black glass, and even for a short time, hand blown art glass.