Pittsburgh Glass Works 1797-1819
James O’Hara was born in Ireland and educated at the Colleg of St. Sulpice, Paris. Both his father and grandfather were political exiles and officers in the Irish brigade in the service of France. Although he was given a commission as an ensign in the Coldstream Guards by a relative, he chose to enter a ship-brokers’office inLiverpool to learn business methods before coming to America. His cousin, Lady Mary OHara, left him a legacy that enabled him to migrate in 1772 and settle in Pittsburgh where he joined with Devereux Smith and Ephraim Douglas in trading with the Indians. It is believed he began buying property in the region as early as 1773, eventually acquiring large tracts in what is now Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois.
O’Hara served as an officer during the Revolution, and in 1781 was appointed assistant Quartermaster. Eventually he was stationed at Fort Pitt and eleven years later was promoted to quartermaster general of the United States Army. His first business venture was the salt trade and by making a route from Salina, New York, to Pittsburgh. He did this with a series of engineering improvements for river navigation and built the boats and wagons for portage.
O’ Hara went into partnership with his deputy quartermaster general, Major Issac Craig, and founded the Pittsburgh Glass Works in 1797. William Peter Eichbaum, superintendent of the Schuykill Glass Works in Philadelphia, was invited to take charge of the glasshouse and its production. The first glass house was located at the foot of Coal Hill across the Monongahela River from Pittsburgh. Construction of an eight pot furnace began in June 1897, but the glass house was leased in 1798 to Eichbaum and Wendt for a short time before O’Hara and others took over the plant and selected a new superintendent, William Price of London, who was familiar with the operation of coal burning furnaces.
Glass workers were recruited from the East and abroad. The firm produced dark green and black porter bottles which supplied one of O’Hara’s other investments, a brewery. Window glass and holloware ( which included bowls, pans, jugs and jars, bottles, flasks, tumblers and decanters). Window glass produced by the factory was shipped to cities from Ohio to New York and down the Ohio River to Louisville, St. Louis, Natchez, and New Orleans. Shipments were also sent east and south over the mountains to Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Charleston.
Issac Craig withdrew from the partnership in 1804 and O’Hara maintained an interest in the firm run by Frederick Lorenz until his death in 1819. The plant faced increasing competition from the domestic market as the glass industry expanded in Pittsburgh, New England and the Mid-Atlantic States, and it was not until the opening of the National Road in 1818 and the addition of improvements in roads, bridges and canals that the glass industries in the area experienced some relief.