By: Nadia Dillon
The tradition of putting up and decorating Christmas trees dates back to the 16th century in Germany. Trees were originally decorated with lighted candles, fruit, and nuts. This slowly began to change in 1846 when a gentleman named Hans Griener began to make glass ornaments at a Glassworks Factory in Lauscha, Germany. He is a descendant of a gentleman also named Hans Griener who opened up the glassworks factory back in 1597. The original glass ornaments were shaped to look like fruits and nuts. The ornaments were made by using blown glass and putting it into a mold. The inside of the ornaments had mercury and tin in them to make them shine. When the dangers of mercury became known, sugar water, and silver replaced it. The outside of the ornament was painstakingly hand-painted and decorated ornately.
Before the war, Max Eckhardt used to import Christmas ornaments to the US to sell them. Anticipating the imminent shortage of glass, Eckhardt created a company called Shiny Bright that would sell US-made glass ornaments. He, along with Bill Thompson who was a representative of Woolworth’s Department store, negotiated with Corning Glass Works in New York to mass produce the glass ornaments. Before making ornaments, Corning Glass Works manufactured lightbulbs. In 1939, Corning Glassworks began to experiment with making glass ornament “blanks” that used the same machines that made lightbulbs. The ornaments were made by pouring hot glass in molds on a conveyer belt. Puffs of air would then be blown into the glass to create its shape and hollow interior. When continuing along the conveyer belt, the ornaments would then get a silver coating inside to give them their signature shine.
Corning Glass Works ended up adding 500 jobs to the factory and producing over 40 million US-made glass ornament “blanks.” Shiny Brite would then go on to paint and decorate the ornaments and distribute them to stores all over the United States. In 1939, F.W. Woolworth ended up purchasing 200,000 glass ornaments to sell at their store. Many stores around the United States began to follow and Shiny Brite ornaments were now sold nationwide
Shiny Brite ornaments were simple and a stark deviation from the ornate German glass ornaments. Shiny Brite ornaments came in many colors including pink, blue, red, and green. A common design with the ornaments was thick stripes that would come in many colors. Due to the shortage of metal, some of the ornaments had cardboard tops. The ornaments were mostly round but there were some oblong shapes also. Due to the ban on silver nitrate, Corning Glass Works could no longer put a silver coating inside the ornaments. To make up for this, tinsel was added inside some of the glass ornaments to capture the shine.
Ornaments were either sold individually or in box sets. Each ornament was sold for as little as 10 cents which would be approximately between $1.50 to $2.00 today. The boxes carried sets of between 6 and 12 ornaments. Each box boasted that the ornaments were American-made. Many boxes even had a photo of Santa Clause shaking hands with Uncle Sam.
Ornament Photo Gallery
Consumers grew to love Shiny Brite ornaments due to their simplicity, low cost, and being made in America. They could no longer justify importing the more ornate and expensive glass ornaments from Germany. Shiny Brite ornaments were still popular in the 50s and 60s and carry nostalgia for much of the baby boomer generation. By the 70s, the production of Shiny Brite ornaments stopped, and are now a collector’s item that we are very lucky to have on display this Holiday season.