Raising a Pittsburgh Glass

Emily Mazzola and undergraduate research collaborator Gabriela Schunn at the Detre Library and Archives

 

Raising a Pittsburgh Glass

Author: Emily Mazzola

2018-2019 A.W. Mellon Fellow in Curation and Education and PhD student in History of Art and Architecture

On February 25, 1972 the people of Westmoreland County proudly took part in a major diplomatic mission occurring halfway across the world when President Nixon concluded his historic trip to China by raising a Lenox Crystal glass filled with California champagne. With the delicate chime of clinking of glasses, Western Pennsylvanian manufacturing was, for a moment, at the center of international diplomacy. Nixon’s toast calling for a “new world order,” was memorialized for the president’s Chinese hosts with gifts of the acid-etched lead-glass champagne coupes, baring the Great Seal of the United States, that were offered as souvenirs of the momentous occasion.

In the days that followed, the national press highlighted the west-coast origins of the sparkling wine, but failed to acknowledge the Pittsburgh glassware that had made it all possible—an oversight that the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and the Mount Pleasant Journal eagerly corrected for local readers. Tribune staff writer Dell McCloy lamented the media’s focus on California’s contribution to the event writing:

"What hasn’t been widely publicized is the fact that Westmoreland County, although not as exotic as the coastal bikini country, also played a part in the drama and diplomacy of the ceremonies. Mainly, a county firm supplied the glasses that held the bubbly that eased the tension that…" [1]

Following the author’s humorous trailing off, the article details the efforts of the Lenox Crystal production team to manufacture 60-dozen flawless coupes under a significant time strain. McCloy concludes, “Local industry had a hand in making history. And although a glass may not sound as exciting as perishable oranges and grapefruits flown in by special jet, who ever heard of drinking champagne without one?”[2] McCloy’s sarcasm belies the pride local glass workers felt in providing an essential element of a major diplomatic ceremony—regardless of how easily the rest of the country overlooked their contribution. The glass workers’ sense of achievement was echoed by the broader community when President Nixon raised a Pittsburgh glass on the international stage.

Nixon’s famous toast using Lenox Crystal produced in Mount Pleasant is just one example of the stories tying Western Pennsylvania manufacturing to the material culture of the American presidency, diplomatic gift exchange, and the politics of national taste that I have uncovered while researching at the Heinz History Center’s Detre Library and Archives for the past year. As the A.W. Mellon Fellow in Curation and Education, I am developing a digital project that highlights these moments of intersection between local production and presidential politics, contextualizing them within the broader concerns of American material culture studies and the decorative arts. My project is rooted in the Detre Library and Archive’s Bryce Brothers Company and Lenox Incorporated Records 1828-2002. My work with this collection has been made possible by the support of the Heinz History Center and the dedication of my undergraduate research collaborators. 

 

[1] Dell McCoy, “Crystal in China: Lenox? Vel-l-ly Good…” Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, March 2, 1972.Bryce Brothers and Lenox Incorporated Glass records, 1828-2002, MSS 0800, Thomas and Katherine Detre Library and Archives, Senator John Heinz History Center.  This collection has been made accessible as part of the Basic Processing and Documenting Democracy grants funded by the National Historical Publications & Records Commission (NHPRC).

[2] Ibid.

 

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