As an avid collector of Blenko glass for many years, I have been in awe of the designs and colors of these pieces. Blenko glass has a rich history and is distinctive because it is created in the Old-World tradition, and every piece is one of a kind as each glass artist has their own glass-blowing style.
William John Blenko of London, England founded Blenko glass in 1893 in Kokomo, IN. When this factory closed in 1909, Blenko returned to England. After returning to the U.S., he moved Blenko glass to Milton, WV in 1921. (Source) A new factory, the current location, was built in 1923 in Milton and Blenko glass is still made. (Source)
For generations, members of the Blenko family have been heavily involved in the operations of the company and Blenko is still a family-owned company. Traditional glass-blowing methods have been used to create a variety of pieces since the company began and involves a lengthy process in which highly skilled craftsmen must work together to develop the items that are exclusive to Blenko glass.
Who Created Blenko Glass and Where Is it Located?
Blenko glass was founded by William John Blenko who was raised in England and emigrated to New York when he was 38 years old in 1893. He soon moved to Kokomo, Indiana where he opened his first factory. However, even though his glass was created using Old World methods that were popular at the time, his glass would not sell in America because Europe was the desired country of origin for this type of glass.
Because of this he returned to England briefly to export his product, and by 1899 returned to Indiana once more with more success. After two unsuccessful factories closed in Marion, PA and Clarksburg, WV.(Source), he moved his operations to Milton, West Virginia (where his glass was first called Eureka Art Glass) in 1921 and the current location of Blenko glass was built in 1923, also in Milton, West Virginia. (Source)
Multiple descendants of William John Blenko have presided over the operations of the company throughout the years. In 1925, son William H. Blenko Sr. came to Milton in 1925 to help his father with managing the company. When his father died in 1933, Blenko Sr. became President of Blenko glass and helped to grow the company for the following thirty years.
When Blenko Sr. passed away in 1969, Blenko Sr.’s, son William H. Blenko Jr. took over operations, eventually becoming President and later Chairman of the Board. William H. Blenko Jr. had been involved with the company since he was a child, working in the plant during the summer months.
In 1996 Richard D. Blenko, great grandson of William John Blenko, replaced Blenko Jr. as President. William H. Blenko Jr. passed in 2016. His son Walter J. Blenko Jr. served as operations manager after his retirement until 2019 when he passed.
Currently, the President of Blenko glass is John W. Blenko, MD who is the son of Walter J. Blenko Jr. John W. Blenko, MD has been president since then and is the fifth president of Blenko glass.
How is Blenko Glass Made?
Blenko glass is made using methods in the old-world European tradition that dates back to at least 1000 years. The glass is silica based, made with silica sand mixed with soda ash, recycled glass called cullet, and “various chemicals” (Source). When this mixture is processed, it is called “batch” and placed into a hot furnace that turns the mixture into glass.
Each worker has a specific job to do in the creation of each piece. Divided into groups, each worker plays a key role in one of the many positions essential for the creation of Blenko glass items: Gatherers, Bit Gatherers, Stick-up Boys, Carry-In Boys, Glass Blowers, Mold Boys, and Finishers (Source).
- The Gatherer uses a hollow metal pipe to place a symmetrical amount of glass on the end of the pipe that is appropriate to the size of the piece they are creating. It is then rolled onto a metal plate, a process called “marveled”.
- Next, a Glass Blower blows into this same pipe to expand the glass on the end. The glass is pliable at this stage and will expand easily. However, this is not the final step as more work needs to be completed to create the final design.
- The glass is then placed into a wooden mold made of cherry that has been soaked in water. Next, the Glass Blower works closely with a worker called a Mold Boy who keeps the mold damp, rotates the mold, and opens/closes the mold when necessary. When the piece of glass has expanded enough, it is removed from heat.
- The Stick-up Boy attaches a long rod to the center of the piece using a small amount of hot glass to adhere the two. Water is then chilled and used to remove the glass piece near the end of the pipe.
- A Finisher who is guided by drawings then shapes the glass with hand tools into the desired design.
- A Carry-In Boy puts the glass into a cooling oven called a Lehr. (Source)
- The glass piece is then moved by a conveyer belt slowly through the Lehr to prevent cracking and is removed after it passes through. Lastly, after a final inspection, the glass is ready to be sold.
How to See Blenko Glass Today
The location is a must-see for any Blenko collector wanting to immerse themselves in the history and legacy of Blenko glass. The company offers free tours of its production area to see this process in action. They also offer paid glass blowing classes where participants are taught by master glass artists the techniques to create their own Blenko glass items.
Also located on the grounds is a large gift shop where a collector can purchase Blenko glass and merchandise. In addition, the location offers a glass museum open to the public that is filled with famous pieces from Blenko’s lengthy history, along with extensive information on the Blenko family and information on the numerous glass artists who have created Blenko pieces throughout the years. Various events are held at the factory year-round for collectors to purchase items at a discount, or to simply celebrate Blenko’s heritage in their beautiful gardens on the property.