History of the Pitkin Glass Works



The Pitkin Glass Works was the first successful glass factory in Connecticut and among the first in New England.  Established in 1783, it operated for nearly 50 years.  Prior to 1823, Manchester was the Orford Parish of East Hartford. Therefore, the glass factory was originally referred to as East Hartford Glass Works. This factory may have originated the distinctive "Pitkin-type" bottle with diagonal swirls or ribs.  Among the glass products made here were demijohns for the West Indies trade, "chestnut" bottles, flasks, inkwells, snuff and utility bottles and tableware items such as pitchers, creamers, bowls and perhaps window glass.

The Pitkin family was well established and influential in the colony, with extensive land holdings in pre and post Revolutionary War Connecticut.  Family members included a governor of the colony and others who served in church, state and local government positions.  Family business interests included the making of gunpowder, textiles, iron and the processing of flour, tobacco and snuff.

With the War of Independence ending, the period of 1781-1788 was one of economic depression in the new republic. Despite the unfavorable economic conditions, William and Elisha Pitkin together with Samuel Bishop submitted to the Connecticut General Assembly a Memorial (petition) asking to have 'the exclusive right and privilege" to build a glass factory and manufacture glass in the state.  This "right" was deemed as recompense for the Pitkin family providing gunpowder, at a loss,  to the Continental Army during the American War of Independence.  Their petition was granted for a term of twenty-five years "from and after the time when they shall begin the first blast for making glass." After several years of preparation, construction and the hiring of a manager and workmen, the first glass was made.  

By 1789, the factory had begun to have financial troubles and permission was requested from the Connecticut Legislature to conduct a lottery as a means of raising funds.  A further lottery was requested in 1791 and together, the two lotteries raised only a small amount of money for the business.The company survived until about 1830 when it appears that production of glass stopped.  It is not known with certainty why the factory closed down. The cost of importing the sand from New Jersey had possibly increased. The available supply of firewood for the glass furnaces had likely decreased as farm land expanded and competition increased from other Connecticut glass factories (at Coventry, Glastonbury and Willington). It is thought that these factors, along with poor management, may have contributed to the demise of the Pitkin Glass Works. Gradually the massive stone building fell into disrepair until preservation efforts began in the late 20th century with the formation of the Pitkin Glass Works Executive Council.