Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Local Insurance Priorities of 1889: Glass, Fire & Steam

Here is one of those tiny tidbits that inadvertently reveals something about its era: an insurance ad. Note the 3 big things they promise to cover. Fire is one, of course. But then you have your steam boiler, for the many local steam-powered factories--which contributed their share of exploding-boiler stories to the papers over the years. The third item is, of all things, plate glass.

At this time plate glass was made by pouring molten glass onto a metal table, cooling it, and polishing it--then flipping the whole shebang over to polish the other side, I kid you not. It was expensive and a royal pain and many glass factory start-ups failed between the 1850s and the turn of the century. It wasn't until 1914, 25 years after this ad, that modern continuous-sheet plate glass production was invented.

So plate glass in 1889 was clearly exorbitantly expensive--pricey to produce because of the handwork, difficult to transport on bumpy trains, and vulnerable to as little as a stray baseball--eek! So it makes sense that a shopkeeper would heavily insure his considerable investment in what we take for granted--a window.

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