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.
(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 (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)
(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)
(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.
The lasering process allows designs to be added to metal, slate, leather, and wood, in addition to glass.
Example of lasering on metal,
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 . . .