Sunday, December 7, 2014

What's Columbia's best-kept secret? Joe Baker knows

For Joe Baker, it all started in the back alley. Avenue H, to be exact. That's where his career with the Susquehanna Glass Company began when he was 17. 

"I still have my favorite cart, " he says, referring to the old utility cart he used back then. It was the largest and would allow him to transport more crates per trip as he pushed it to the various stations around the building. It is still being used, by others, today.

(Joe Baker with the cart he used a few decades ago)

Back then we used wooden crates to put glassware in for the cutters,” he explains. “When they were done, they would set it in the lane here, and I would go up and down, pile them up on the cart and take them back to the washtubs.” Baker says he would then hand wash the glassware before it was packed and shipped.

Over the decades, Baker outgrew merely pushing the cart and learned other operations on his way to the sales department, where he has worked for the past 24 years. He points out that Susquehanna Glass was there in Avenue H long before he was.  In fact, the company was started in Columbia by Albert Roye in 1910, using a single glass cutting machine. 


(Artisans of former days) . . .





The company is one of the last remaining American factories practicing the art of hand-cut glass and currently employs several dozen people on various shifts. The operation is now at the height of its busiest season - Christmas. 3,000 pieces a day are being shipped out, and the required storage area has expanded to rented space at the Kleen-Rite Corporation on Ninth Street.

 (Items being readied for shipping)

(Storage at Avenue H)


The Avenue H facility is the company’s main manufacturing plant and distribution center, although it also has a showroom in Atlanta, Georgia. Contrary to what many customers believe, the glass is not actually produced at the Columbia plant. Rather, blanks are shipped in and "finished" there. Finishing includes hand cutting, sand etching, color screening, engraving, and lasering.

Hand Cutting
(Crystal, a 27-year veteran artisan, demonstrates hand-cutting.  The first step for this particular design is cutting the flower pattern.)


(In the second step, Crystal cuts the flower stems after changing wheels.)

In the hand cutting process shown above, a master artisan uses a rotating stone wheel to cut various designs into the glass. Since the operation is done freehand, each piece is unique.

Sand Etching
Sand etching (shown here) uses high pressure sand that is sprayed onto the substrate to create the etching.

(A piece right after sand etching)

(A similar item after being cleaned up a bit)


Color Screening
(A color screening machine)

In color screening, a design is printed in ink onto the glass and sent through a conveyor dryer to set it permanently.

(A collection of color screened items)


Engraving
(An engraved glass)

Engraving uses a computer process to drive punches into the glass at 15,000 strokes per minute to compose the design and can be used with metal, plastic, crystal, and glass.



Lasering
The lasering process allows designs to be added to metal, slate, leather, and wood, in addition to glass.

 Example of lasering on metal,

 on slate,

and on wood.

After any particular process is complete, items are checked, packed, and shipped out. Baker says the company’s clients include Amazon, Target, and Williams-Sonoma, among others. 




These days, Joe Baker talks to clients from his own office, a few floors away - yet a long way from - his favorite cart.


(Susquehanna Glass Company (and its outlet store) is located at 731 Avenue H in Columbia.)

Outlet store items . . .



23 comments:

  1. Great reading of a dedicated employee and the historical foundation that Susquehanna Glass has in Columbia. One of Columbia's best kept secrets!

    Great story!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for commenting, Chris. I'm glad you enjoyed the article.

      Delete
  2. Thanks to those that kept this business here in Columbia all these years. Congratulations to Joe Baker on his long service to this company. Thank you to this website for a story well done.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Nicely written, and way to go Joe. You still shine as a Columbia resident, worker and friend. Wishing you continued joy for all you do at Susquehanna Glass.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. dianne kauffman fradyDecember 10, 2014 at 2:01 AM

      i never knew that Joe! So cool! Great story and Susquehanna Glass is awesome! Take care!!!

      Delete
  4. Way to go Joe. Keep up the great work. And congrats from being a "cart boy" to a salesman. from the box lady

    ReplyDelete
  5. Nice article and mini tour. Another small place that I don't believe is in business any longer is Baker Manufacturing. I'm sure most people didn't know they had a famous fishing product that a ton of people have and use to remove fish hooks from inside the mouths of fish.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Baker Manufacturing was also famous for making tin kids toys such as garden tools.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Hi Uncle Joe Thank you for the story This place is amazing I love the glassware and seeing how things were pictures are great telling a story From Lynne and Dan

    ReplyDelete
  8. Great Job Joe!

    Michelle

    ReplyDelete
  9. The glasses come from china.

    ReplyDelete
  10. I actually work at Susquehanna Glass. While we do source some of our pitchers and carafes from overseas, the majority of our glasses are domestic.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Great article about Joe and the Glass Factory. My mother Dorothy Henny worked there for 43 years, cutting glass. Her picture use to hang at the information center by the bypass. She loved her job. As a child, I would love sitting behind her while she cut her glass on her wheel. Several people over the years have told me my mom was a legend there. When she passed, they even had an award they would present every year to one of their employees. Always loved that place.

    ReplyDelete