Bushwick Glass Works (aka Brookfield Glass Company)
Brooklyn, New York (1864 – c. 1912)
Old Bridge, New Jersey (c. 1906-1921)
Bushwick Glass Works began as a bottle manufacturing operation in 1864. The factory site was located near the intersection of Grand Street and Morgan Avenue in the Bushwick area of Brooklyn, New York.
James Madison Brookfield (1813-1892), who had moved to Brooklyn some time after the Honesdale Glass Works of Traceyville, Pennsylvania, was destroyed by a flood in 1861, seems to have been the main person involved with the management of this establishment in the earlier years, probably from it’s very beginning.
Businessman Martin Kalbfleisch, owner/proprietor of the Bushwick Chemical Works, (Kalbfliesch also served as mayor of Brooklyn for a time in the 1860s), built the glass factory in 1864 in order to supply carboys and demijohns (large acid bottles) required for his business, and hired Mr. Brookfield to manage the operation. The factory was quite close (apparently, right across the street) to the main Bushwick Chemical Works buildings.
James M. Brookfield purchased the Bushwick glassworks from Kalbfleisch in approximately 1869. In later years his son (William Brookfield), and later, grandsons, eventually would become involved with the operation of the company. Many types of bottles and jars were made, especially in the earlier years, and judging from the content of advertisements as late as the 1890s, were continued to be made throughout most, if not all, of the duration of the company’s operation, although not alot is known about them. Most were evidently unmarked, and/or were made for companies with only the product or company name embossed on them. Brookfield made many (if not all) of the “RRR / Radway’s Ready Relief” patent medicine bottles, as mentioned in a trade magazine article (Crockery and Glass Journal, Sept 9, 1875). That article is reproduced here, courtesy of Bob Stahr and Bob Berry, at the Insulator Gazette database website: http://reference.insulators.info/publications/view/?id=411&h0=kalbfleisch.
Large quantities of square pickle bottles, chow-chow (tomato/vegetable pickle relish) jars, and many containers for “Vinegar Bitters” were made, as mentioned in that article. The “Vinegar Bitters” are almost certainly the “Dr. J. Walker’s Vinegar Bitters” bottles which are found frequently in liqht aqua as well as (much less commonly) in various shades of green similar to the colors of Brookfield-made insulators of the same period.
The mold room is described as being crowded with many, many bottle molds, so there are, no doubt, many types of patent medicine and other product bottles that were made here in large quantities, yet remain unidentified to the present-day bottle collector.
A cylinder whiskey or wine-type bottle is known to exist which is embossed “BUSHWICK GLASS WORKS” in a circle on the base. This bottle is mentioned in McKearin & Wilson’s American Bottles and Flasks and their Ancestry (1978), page 221. Evidently it is a very rarely seen item, and probably dates from the 1860s or 1870s. A very rare type of fruit jar embossed “Brookfield/55/Fulton St/N.Y.” is known, but only a very few examples have been found by collectors.
The production of electrical insulators rapidly increased in the late 1860s and ’70s, until by the 1880s a large percentage of their glass production consisted of insulators for telegraph and telephone lines. The 1890s saw increasing production of insulators for (higher voltage) electrical power lines.
The great majority of the insulators from the Brooklyn plant are found in a pale blue-aqua color. Insulators in shades of “true” green from this earlier period are considerably less common. Judging from the huge numbers still in existence, Brookfield was second only to the Hemingray Glass Company in the sheer number of insulators they manufactured.
For a period of approximately 57 years, huge quantities of insulators marked “W.BROOKFIELD”, “BROOKFIELD”, and later, with just a “B”, were produced. It is highly likely some of the very earliest insulator styles that were made (circa 1864-1868) were not marked with a manufacturer’s name, and so remain currently unidentified as Bushwick products.
Brookfield made insulators for various utility companies, (telephone companies, railroads, electric power companies) and some of these are found with embossed initials / names on them (such as A T & T Co, C D & P Tel Co, etc).
Brookfield maintained business offices in Manhattan, NY throughout most if its history, and those office addresses were embossed on many of the earlier insulators. 55 FULTON ST (1868-1882); 45 CLIFF ST (1882-1889) and 83 FULTON ST (1889-1893) are embossings found that may help date a particular example. However it’s probable some molds were continued to be used for a length of time after the office changed locations. (Although an insulator collector might understandably assume so, just because of the markings, no insulators were actually made at those Manhattan locations. They were made at the factory site in Brooklyn).
Brookfield made more than 100 different types of insulators during it’s history, and some types that are illustrated in their 1912 catalog have never been found (assuming they did actually exist).
A second glass plant was built in Old Bridge, New Jersey, and from recently discovered evidence by collector/historian Bob Stahr, that plant seems to have commenced glass production in about 1906. The exact time when the Brooklyn plant was closed is still open to question, but it may have been around 1912, meaning that both plants likely operated simultaneously for a period of around 6 years. However, production of insulators may have ceased at Brooklyn soon after the Old Bridge NJ plant was in full operation, leaving the Brooklyn location to concentrate exclusively on bottle production, especially beer bottles.
The Brookfield Glass Company was officially incorporated in 1898 and (again!) in 1908, although that exact company name may have been used, unofficially, for a considerable time beforehand. One interesting note: No insulators are known with a “Bushwick Glass Works” marking.
Much of the later production at the New Jersey location tends toward the darker shades of aqua, “teal”, and shades of dark green, including emerald and olive greens. Production of glass at Old Bridge ended in either late 1920 or early 1921 (sources of info vary) but the corporation was officially dissolved in September 1922.
Note: In general, the name Bushwick Glass Works applied to the physical factory, and Brookfield Glass Company was the actual firm (company or business organization) that operated the works, although these two names are often used interchangeably and may be considered almost synonymous. However, Bushwick Glass Works can properly only be applied to the first glass factory operation in Brooklyn, not the later glassworks in Old Bridge.
Sources of information for this webpage include N.R.Woodward (The Glass Insulator in America: 1988 Report), Elton Gish, Bob Stahr, Glenn Drummond, Alice Creswick and Helen McKearin.
(Pictured at the top of this page: Group of three “pony” style telephone insulators. From left to right: CD 102 embossed “BROOKFIELD//NEW YORK”; CD 112 embossed with just a “B”; CD 103 embossed “B”).
NOTE: for a basic list of glass factories in the United States that are believed to have made glass insulators at some time in their history, go to my “Glass Insulator Manufacturers” page here.
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