Thatcher Glass: A hidden gem in our backyard

This post is the first in a series about the Thatcher Glass Collection project.

My name is Christina Baker, and I currently work in the digitization lab at the Rakow Research Library. My assignment is to catalog and digitize the archival collection for Thatcher Glass Manufacturing Co., which was located in Elmira, N.Y. When people ask me what I do, I explain to them that I am working on the Thatcher Glass project and they ask, “What is Thatcher Glass? I’ve never heard of them, where are they located? Corning?” I give them a scenario: “Tonight on your way home, you may be stopping at the grocery store and you may have written on your grocery list this morning that one of the items you need to pick up is a gallon of milk. As you stand in front of the dairy case, wondering what brand to get, stop a moment and look around. You may notice that you have two selections of milk containers: plastic or cardboard. Now place yourself in that same frame of mind, but 60, 70 years into the past. Instead of reaching for a plastic gallon or cardboard carton of milk, you would be reaching for a glass bottle. Or you might have direct delivery to your doorstep via a horse-drawn carriage. What you might not have realized is that the bottle your milk came in was manufactured in your own backyard.”

The Thatcher Glass Manufacturing Company, in Elmira, N.Y., made glass milk bottles, glass jars, and other glass products. Thatcher Glass started in Potsdam, N.Y., and built their largest plant in Elmira in 1912, although they had several plants around the United States, including in Pennsylvania, Illinois, and Ohio.

A photo of shipments of bottles leaving the freight platform at the Elmira plant

The invention of the glass milk bottle was an innovation that allowed dairies to expand their services to more local areas, allowed shipments to places outside the locality, and improved sanitation during milk deliveries. In 1884, the glass bottle that helped shape the dairy service industry was invented by Dr. Hervey D. Thatcher. He was a druggist as well as an inventor from Potsdam. Dr. Thatcher first developed a milk pail preventing contamination during the milking process, and later he invented a bottle called the “Milk Protector” to provide a sanitary delivery to consumers’ residences. It was also known as the “Common Sense Milk Bottle,” a design that would continue to be a feature in many of Thatcher’s innovative milk bottle designs

Design drawing for a milk bottle

A drawing for a milk bottle with the Common Sense finish

While working on this project, I have been fortunate to see many unique items in the collection. As I have sifted through drawings and memorandums written by people who knew Thatcher Glass best, I realized that, even though I grew up in this area, I was one of those people who had no idea Thatcher Glass existed. I now think of Thatcher Glass as an old friend whom I cannot wait for you all to meet as we continue to share more highlights from this collection!

Read more about this project on the Chemung County Historical Society blog.

The Rakow Research Library and the Chemung County Historical Society have partnered to catalog and digitize the Thatcher Glass Manufacturing Co. Collection. The collection is part of the Booth Library at the Chemung County Historical Society. This project is supported in part by the South Central Regional Library Council’s Regional Bibliographic Databases and Interlibrary Resources Sharing Program.

The Rakow Research Library is open to the public 9 am to 5 pm every day. We encourage everyone to explore our collections in person or online. If you have questions or need help with your research, please use our Ask a Glass Question service.

5 comments » Write a comment

  1. Very interested in this article. My maiden name was Thatcher. My father’s relatives came over from England and opened a glass factory in New Bedford/Fairhaven, Ma called Thatcher Bros. Glass. They had developed and patented a diamond finish for their products. It was destroyed in a fire and in doing my geneology I lost track of the brothers from there. One “story” is that one member of the Thatcher brothers went to New York and worked or had something to do with Corning. I am wondering if there is any connection with the research you are doing.

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