Abstract: Creative Adaptations: Making Glass in Eighteenth-Century Peterstal and Wistarburg

Rosalind J. Beiler


In 1738, Caspar Wistar, an immigrant from the Palatinate, founded the United Glass Company at Wistarburg, New Jersey. To establish the enterprise, Wistar signed a contract with four German-speaking master glassblowers and purchased several hundred acres of timbered land. While American scholars have remarked on the unique nature of Wistar's agreement with his partners, internal contracts were common among glassmakers in Europe. This paper compares Wistar's manufactory with Peterstal, a contemporary German glassworks, to illustrate the transfer and adaptation of business organization and labor relations to America. Wistar applied similar strategies for operating the United Glass Works to those Peter Wentzel employed at Peterstal in the Electorate of the Palatinate. Both enterprises consisted of small companies within a larger corporation; both entrepreneurs needed to obtain timber and sand for production, pay rents and taxes, and provision laborers. New Jersey, however, provided Wistar with fewer government restrictions, easier access to some natural resources, and different forms of labor from those in Europe. Nevertheless, placing the glass-making community at Wistarburg within its eighteenth-century transatlantic context dispels the image of the colonial enterprise as exceptional. It reveals that European artisans and entrepreneurs brought with them knowledge and experience which they adapted to their new environments.