Manufacturers Address the Worldwide Glass Shortage … in 1920

In recent months, companies across the supply chain have expressed increasing concern over capacity constraints facing the global glass industry. Many fear that production capacity, which was slashed during the Great Recession, will be unable to meet the rising demands from a rebounding construction market.

“With the economy recovering, there will be a pinch in supply. It happens; it has happened before,” said an official from one U.S. glass manufacturer in a 2014 interview with Glass Magazine.

That comment piqued my curiosity. When has this ‘pinch in supply’ happened? And what did it look like for the U.S. glass industry?

In a few moments of Googling, I discovered one historical glass shortage from nearly 100 years ago with characteristics roughly echoing our current capacity constraints—though, the cause and extent differed greatly.

In 1920, officials from the National Association of Window Glass Manufacturers declared a shortage of glass, particularly for commercial applications, due to a labor shortage, and due to rising demand following a sharp reduction of manufacturing capacity. Sound familiar?

Glass manufacturing officials said in a July 6, 1920, article from the New York Times, that the industry’s output was cut by 50 percent—in their case, due to World War I, rather than a worldwide recession. Officials described “an almost total suspension of glass making in Western European countries while the allied nations were fighting the Central Powers and a slow recovery from a practically complete paralysis of the glass trade there.”

That glass shortage of 1920 was faced even more acutely in Europe. According to the article, “Practically all of the allied countries are clamoring for glass in their reconstruction programs and production is lagging. Devices are being used in lieu of machinery destroyed [in the war], which were accounted antiquated in the United States twenty or even thirty years ago.”

How did U.S. manufacturers of 100 years ago plan to address the shortage? According to a related report from the July 17, 1920 edition of the Electric Railway Journal, companies focused on improving production technologies, and extended their production hours. “One encouraging factor … is the wonderful progress being made with glass production by machine,” according to the report. Manufacturers also continued operations throughout the summer to “catch up with the volume of unfilled orders.”

Katy Devlin, Editor, Glass Magazine
The opinions expressed here and in reader comments are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the National Glass Association, Glass Magazine editors, or other glassblog contributors.


I think you just can't compare the 1920's to today. Modern production processes and much larger tanks (albeit at high capital cost) make the likelihood of a glass shortage in the US low. Why else would manufacturers still be taking capacity out of the market - as in Guardian's Floreffe plant? Idled plants can be brought back on-line in Tulsa and other markets. A shortage (or rumors of one) will help raise prices, but it's just not a reality.
My concern is that even a perceived supply shortage at a time when we are fighting for more glass on projects could hurt our case. I agree that supply and demand will find their own balance but limited production may drive down overall demand from our customers which will undermine the effort to raise prices in the end. We need adequate supply to continue the battle for the wall.