Henry William Stiegel

Henry William Stiegel (1729-1785), a German-born American iron founder and glassmaker, is best known for the colorful blown glass associated with his name.

Henry Stiegel was born near Cologne and emigrated to Philadelphia in 1750 with his widowed mother and younger brother. After a year or so in Philadelphia, he went to work in Lancaster County for an iron founder, whose daughter, Elizabeth Huber, he married in 1752. By 1756 Stiegel had become a partner in the ironworks, which was run on a cooperative basis, and he renamed it Elizabeth Furnace. In 1760 he became a subject of Great Britain. By then he was an important community leader and a lay delegate to the Lutheran Ministerium of Pennsylvania.

Elizabeth Furnace was modernized, and a small company town was built around it. Under Stiegel's energetic influence the foundry produced stoves, heating devices, and almost every kind of object that could be made of iron. By the 1760s Stiegel had acquired a second ironworks, Charming Forge, near Womelsdorf, Pa., and a large amount of land at what later became the town of Manheim. His first wife had died, and he married again.

In 1763 Stiegel produced, on an experimental basis, his first glassware at Elizabeth Furnace. There were 10 craftsmen, supervised by his brother Anthony. The initial output of the factory—window glass and green bottles—sold quickly. Shortly thereafter Stiegel made a trip to England to study advanced methods and technology of glass production.

Upon his return to America, Stiegel and his partners lost no time in setting up a glassworks at Manheim. On Nov. 11, 1765, the enterprise went into operation. The first two seasons were fairly prosperous, but business subsequently declined until 1769, when Stiegel built a larger glassworks which was staffed with over 130 workers, including Venetians, Germans, Irish, and English. Distributing agencies were set up in a number of Pennsylvania cities and later in Baltimore, New York, and Boston as well.

With the glassworks prospering, Stiegel lived in great luxury. He might have survived his extravagance had times not been bad. Money became increasingly tight in the Colonies and taxes more oppressive. He mortgaged his two ironworks and real estate to build a second glass factory but continued to live beyond his means. By 1772 he was surrounded on all sides by debtors. In 1774 he was put in debtors' prison. When he was freed on Christmas Eve, all his belongings were confiscated. In 1776 the new owner of Elizabeth Furnace, which was making cannonballs for the Continental Army, gave him employment. When the battlefront changed, this manufacture was discontinued, and Stiegel was again jobless. He died in poverty on Jan. 10, 1785.

Further Reading on Henry William Stiegel

A full-length biography of Stiegel, and an analysis of the product he created, is Frederick William Hunter, Stiegel Glass (1914). He figures prominently in two general works on glassware: George S. and Helen McKearin, American Glass (1941) and Two Hundred Years of American Blown Glass (1950).