7 Ohio Glass Museums That Sparkle
Heart of the glass industry
Passionate collectors of antique glassware travel from around the country to Ohio, once the heart of America's glass industry. But you don't have to be an enthusiast to appreciate the color and shine of these pieces.
The Toledo Museum of Art is the splashiest of a whole network of little Ohio glass museums. Antiques lovers easily can plan their own "glass trail" tours of these off-the-beaten-track spots for a glimpse into Ohio's glassmaking history--or to start their own collections.
Click ahead to find out about seven glass museums we like. For information on others, contact the Ohio Tourism Division (800/282-5393). For more Ohio glassmaking history, click the link below to go directly to slide 7.
Pictured: An Imperial decanter, Cambridge goblets and a Cambridge mayonnaise dish represent fine Ohio-made glass.
Toledo Museum of Art
Glassblowers in the Toledo Museum of Art's Glass Pavilion deftly twirl, twist, stretch and snip fiery globs of molten glass into animals and vases. Sometimes, the artists' wood paddles scorch, sending a whiff of wood smoke through the building.
The Glass Pavilion (left) opened in 2006, earning acclaim for both its design--a building made of glass to show glass--and its fusion of studio and museum. After touring the pavilion's hot shops, visitors can see highlights from the museum's 10,000-item glass collection. There, amid ancient vessels and curlicue Dale Chihuly sculptures, they find pieces made right here in Ohio.
Classes are available in the Glass Pavilion. Fees vary, but museum admission is free (419/255-8000).
National Museum of Cambridge Glass
This downtown Cambridge museum (80 miles east of Columbus) features more than 7,000 pieces of Cambridge Glass, as well as interactive exhibits and mannequins depicting the process of making handmade glassware. Visitors can do rubbings of dragons, peacocks and other designs from factory etching plates. Open seasonally. Admission charged (740/432-4245).
Pictured: The National Museum of Cambridge Glass' new 2010 Dining Room display highlights the Cambridge Glass Company's amber creations.
Ohio Glass Museum
In Lancaster (30 miles southeast of Columbus), this museum highlights all Ohio glass companies, including Anchor Hocking, still in operation in Lancaster. The museum recently opened a glassblowing studio with daily demonstrations and classes. Admission charged (740/687-0101).
Pictured: Hand-blown renderings by The Ohio Glass Museum's in-house glass artist, Mike Stepanski.
National Heisey Glass Museum
A historic house in Newark (40 miles east of Columbus) houses sparkling tableware (left) and a menagerie of animal figurines. Admission charged (740/345-2932).
Two more glass museums
National Imperial Glass Museum In Bellaire (127 miles east of Columbus), visitors can see an array of Imperial patterns, such as Candlewick, one of Ohio's best-known designs. Open seasonally. Admission charged (740/671-3971).
Tiffin Glass Museum Tiffin sparkled on many tables-including those of Elvis and the Shah of Iran. The museum is in a storefront in downtown Tiffin (90 miles north of Columbus), with a gift shop that sells vintage glass. Free (419/448-0200).
Glassmaking in Ohio
In the late 1800s, glassmaking shifted from the East Coast to Ohio, where abundant fuel, railroads and waterways made manufacturing and shipping more affordable. The industry boomed, spawning dozens of small-town glass companies and earning Toledo (birthplace of the automated bottle maker) the nickname "Glass City."
Across America, milk pails and pickle barrels gave way to Ohio-made bottles and jars. Princess Grace selected gold-rimmed Tiffin stemware for the palace in Monaco, while other brides chose Cambridge's Rose Point, a pattern so intricate, it took 72 workers to complete a single goblet. "Ohio made glass pervasive in our society," explains University of Findlay professor Quentin Skrabec.
After World War II, however, Ohio's glass boom succumbed to foreign competition, rising energy costs and casual lifestyle trends. Most companies didn't survive, but their products did.
Today, in many of the towns that set America's tables, collectors clubs run museums dedicated to each company. Cambridge is known for colors; Heisey for handmade tableware; Tiffin for sophisticated designs; and Imperial for its gargantuan factory and wide product assortment.
Pictured: A Cambridge Glass worker in 1948.
(A version of this story appeared in Midwest Living® March/April 2010.)