I’m a local girl. My great-grandfather blew the world’s largest light bulb at Corning Glass Works’ “A” factory, just across the river from where I sit at the Museum. The men and women behind the glass fascinate me. So, when I came across early Pyrex brand teapots, I couldn’t wait to share my findings.
The renowned designer Frederick Carder designed the first Pyrex teapots in 1922. He had begun his glassmaking career at Stevens & Williams in England and co-founded Steuben Glass Works with Thomas G. Hawkes in 1903. He would become the art director of Corning Glass Works in 1932.
Carder’s teapots were elegant, with long graceful spouts. They came in tall, round, and squat varieties, each with a unique handle and lid. They were transparent. You could see when the tea was the right strength and always knew how much was in the pot. Because they were Pyrex products made from borosilicate glass, they could withstand the heat of boiling water and kept tea hot while their handles stayed cool. The Rakow Research Library preserves the original “tall” and “round” design patents signed by Carder on February 1, 1922. You can find the “squat” patent online.
Unlike most Pyrex products, these early teapots were not machine-made. According to a hand-written memo in the Corning Inc. archives, they were blown by a four-man team in Corning Glass Works’ “A” factory. Seth Warren was the gaffer in charge of blowing the teapots, Ernie Frankhauser was the finisher who added the spouts and handles, Dick Begell was the gatherer, and Seth’s son, Stanley, was the bit boy.
The first Pyrex teapots were sold in 1923. Consumers could buy two-cup pots for $2.50, four-cup pots for $3.00, and six-cup pots for $3.50. The “tall” design was discontinued in 1925, and a one-cup “round” design was added for $1.50. In 1929, Corning began offering “engraved” teapots for 50% more than the cost of plain ones. However, we believe these pots were cut rather than engraved. According to the former Steuben glass engraver Max Erlacher, stone wheels cut hard borosilicate glass easier than the copper wheels used by engravers. Simple designs could be added to the wheels to streamline the cutting process.
Although third parties were often hired to cut and engrave Pyrex blanks, Corning did much of the work on their own. In 1919, Peter A. Eick came to work in the Pyrex finishing department where he became known for his floral cutting and monograms on a wide range of Pyrex products, especially teapots. He had left his job at the local cutting firm T. G. Hawkes & Company where he was paid $17 a week.
By 1931, Corning began to phase out the original Pyrex teapots in favor of a new design. The new pots had no spout, which advertisements branded a “treacherous snare” for “careless fingers,” and a chromium handle deemed sturdier than “the fragile handle of old-style teapots.” In 1934, Ernie Frankhauser, the finisher who added the “old-style” spouts and handles to the original teapots, was seriously injured on the job. No one could replace his expertise, and the last Carder-designed Pyrex teapot was sold in 1935.