OPINION COLUMNS

All the Wiser: Glass from the past

By Joy Burgess-Carrico | Published Saturday, April 20, 2019
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Classic Thumb Print Design

CLASSIC THUMBPRINT DESIGN – Nooks ‘n’ Crannies on the Decatur Square displays these three Decatur Glass tumblers in amber. They have the classic thumbprint design. Messenger photo by Joy Burgess-Carrico

Annette Craze Stephens asked via Facebook: “What about Decatur Glass Company?”

There’s a lot about that.

There’s the actual company.

What is generally referred to as “Decatur Glass” is glassware produced in Decatur from March 1957 to April, 1981 by a company called Texglass, Inc. and later Decatur Glass Works, Inc.

Joy Burgess-Carrico

Texglass moved here from Athens in East Texas in 1957 and began production by mid-March. The owner, Herman Rosenzweig, chemical engineer, brought in glass blowers from Monterrey, Mexico, because of their expertise, and sought to craft a truly unique product.

The company operated under Rosenzweig until his death in 1965. His widow continued the company until 1969.

TexGlass was sold in 1971 to a Florida company and eventually became Decatur Glass Works.

In the late ’70s, the price of natural gas became too high and Decatur Glass Works began looking for a way to power their furnaces without paying such high prices.

In 1980, they petitioned the city of Decatur to grant them a drilling permit so they could drill their own gas well under their factory.

Without their own well, they would be forced to close, they warned. This caused some controversy. People holding mineral interests in adjacent lands grumbled. If allowed, Decatur Glass Works would be using up gas they could make money on. The city council “went to bat” for the factory and allowed the permit, encouraging the interest holders to cooperate.

Next, we see Decatur Gas – I mean Glass – Works back in the paper because they wanted to build a pipeline to sell the gas they had drilled. This opened a whole new can of worms and lawsuits from adjacent land and mineral interest owners who might have been fine with Decatur Glass Works using the gas to run their business, but weren’t fine with them selling the gas for profit.

It also made the Decatur City Council mad.

In a meeting with the factory’s representatives, the city council was again told that if Decatur Glass Works wasn’t allowed to sell the gas, they would have to close up shop. The council balked and the company basically said you can’t stop us.

It didn’t take the city council long to strike a deal. In April, council members said they felt like the city slickers had “ripped their drawers,” in May, they were shrugging because they had made a verbal agreement with the company but “you could never tell with those guys” and in June, a formal arrangement for the pipeline was reported.

While this was going on, the company was also being sued for a worker’s death at their factory that occurred under suspicious circumstances.

Despite all the hoops the city jumped through to keep Decatur Glass Works alive, they closed their doors in April, 1981, less than a year after all the fuss.

I have no idea what happened to all that gas.

So, there’s a lot about the Decatur Glass Company.

But what about the man behind the company?

This is really interesting.

Herman Rosenzweig was born in 1901 in Austria. He was Jewish. If you do the math, you quickly see that his 30s and early 40s are looking pretty grim.

Herman was a chemical engineer and began his career in glass making in Vienna. He shortly left Vienna and moved to Athens, Greece, before any final solution was applied to him. Other members of his family were not so fortunate.

He, apparently, did not like to dwell on such things.

He worked in glass making in Greece, while also working to help Jews escape the horrors of the holocaust.

He later worked in Egypt and Palestine.

He made his way to New York in the early ’40s and fell in love with a first-grade teacher named Bertha. He pretended to need English lessons, although his English was impeccable.

They married and eventually found themselves down Mexico way in the late ’40s, where Rosenzweig discovered something special in Mexican glass artisans that he would bring back.

He began his own glass works company in Athens, in East Texas. But it didn’t last long. Dissatisfied, he sought a new location and determined that Decatur was the best choice for a community willing to take on all that his industry required, including an influx of Mexican immigrant artisans and their families.

Rosenzweig was hard-working and dedicated to glass-making. He was meticulous. He genuinely cared about his work, his employees and his community.

He did not craft the glass. He formulated it and designed the equipment and the process for making the pieces.

Unfortunately, he died Jan. 9, 1965, after a lengthy illness.

Rosenzweig only ran the company for about seven years, which is too bad. From the small amount I gleaned about him, he seemed like the sort of man you want around.

So there’s a lot about him.

But what of Mrs. Rosenzweig?

She’s interesting too. Bertha Rosenzweig was an Orthodox Jew, like her husband. Her parents were also from Austria and she was born and raised in New York. She followed her husband to Texas. She made glass making her life. After he died, she carried on for a bit, but then sold the business.

She remained in Decatur until her death in 2001, at the age of 95. She had no children.

She was very involved in the community and was the public relations arm of the company. The paper is full of her presenting talks to local groups on glass making and on the Jewish faith.

It is obvious to me that Bertha Rosenzweig, despite however different she may have seemed, made Decatur her home.

So there’s that about her.

But what about the glass?

It’s collectible.

Rosenzweig was very invested in it having a certain look. A search on Ebay brought up a set of four Mid-Century tumblers in emerald in their “iconic thumbprint pattern with a crinkled texture” for $47.96. I have no idea if that’s a good price. If you are interested, you can find examples of the glass around Wise County. I would start at either the Wise County Heritage Museum or at one of the antique stores. I”m told it’s getting hard to come by.

So what about Decatur Glass Company?

OK. It’s a broad question and I probably didn’t even answer what she meant by it.

What catches my attention is this:

Artists, especially glass workers and potters, use chemistry as a means to create art all the time. They mix feldspar and clay and star matter and the magic of fairies or whatever so they can then make their art.

But for Herman Rosenzsweig the art of the glass was in the chemistry. His contribution to the art of glass was in its formulation and design of the equipment.

He was a chemical engin-artist.

That is interesting.

I wish I could talk to him about it.

Joy Burgess Carrico is a Messenger graphic artist. Email her your questions at jcarrico@wcmessenger.com.

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