Gwen Mitchell Cortese, Worker of the Month

by Michael and Cindy Arent - Issue #196, August, 1989

This is part of a series of articles based on videotaped interviews conducted by The Cambridge Cordials Study Group.

Gwen Mitchell Cortese started work at the Cambridge Glass Co. in 1940. Her first and only position was that of Visitor's Tour Guide. As tour guide, she conducted as many as four one-hour tours per day until the plant closing in 1954. During her 16 years, thousands of visitors toured the plant and heard Gwen's colorful description of how Cambridge glass was made.

When we asked Gwen to describe a typical plant tour, we found that she remembered exactly how it went. Her tour description is interesting because it gives an overview of each department while at the same time tying together the many departments into a complete factory description.

Gwen started the tours by leading visitors out of the showroom onto the factory floor. The first pot they would encounter would be where blown ware was made. Gwen described for us what the visitors would see and went into detail on the many steps to constructing a blown goblet. She also gave us a detailed description of how a ball bottom tumbler was made. According to Gwen, all ball bottom tumblers were blown by the same worker, George Pettit.

After seeing a blown piece made the visitors were led to another area where they could watch workers make pressed ware. Gwen's description of this area includes a detailed description of workers pressing a punch bowl. Gwen stated that she always started off by giving the visitors the opportunity to see both a blown and pressed piece being made.

Moving on, the visitors were taken past the lehr and into the finishing department where the tops were cut and polished. From there they would go to the grinding room where some pieces, such as ball bottom tumblers and ash trays would have their bottoms ground and polished.

After leaving the grinding room, the visitors would be taken to the cooper shop where they would watch the resident barrel maker make wooden barrels for packing and shipping Cambridge glass. This trade had been handed down for several generations within the family of Dutch Conrad. The last two generations of the Conrad family, Dutch and his son, made barrels at the Cambridge Glass factory.

Next, the visitors were taken to the etching department where they witnessed the many steps involved in the etching process. This was followed by a tour of the cutting and decorating departments, and finally the packing and shipping area.

When the tour was all done, the group returned to the showroom where Gwen gave each of them a souvenir Bridge Hound, a booklet on the history of the Cambridge Glass Co., and leaflets on many of the different glass patterns. Visitors were not allowed to purchase glass from the showroom, but were always referred to local merchants where they could make purchases.