More than 44 million people attended the New York World’s Fair in 1939 and two of the many exhibits that visitors would have enjoyed were the Glass Center, a pavilion that marketed glass as the material of the future, and the Town of Tomorrow, a faux suburb of model homes that included the House of Glass. In both of these venues an example of this sleek glass chair, manufactured by the Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company, would have caught the visitors’ eyes.

Plate glass had become synonymous with urban progress through its expansive use in shop windows and in skyscrapers including the Empire State Building, whose architects, Shreve, Lamb & Harmon, were also responsible for the Glass Center pavilion at the World’s Fair.  Inside the pavilion, decorative panels depicted the history of the industry, looms wove fiberglass goods, and a crew of glass blowers worked at a furnace of molten glass. The Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company showed a model room in which six examples of this rounded chair, with fiberglass upholstery, complemented a glass table, a glass sideboard, crystal tablewares, and mirrored walls. Here the manufacturer aimed to show visitors how this industrial material of glass could glamorize and modernize the home. To commemorate their experience, fairgoers could have picked up the brochure entitled “The Miracle of Glass: Its Glorious Past, Its Thrilling Present, Its Miraculous Future,” a copy of which is held in the World’s Fairs Collection at the Cooper Hewitt Library.

In the Town of Tomorrow, the Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company again communicated the great potential of plate glass’ domestic application with their model home the House of Glass. Built in the International Style, this building boasted exterior loggias, a curving exterior stairway, and interiors fitted out with glass furniture, including this glass chair in the house’s bedroom. The House of Glass embodied a spirit of fantasy and was one of the Town of Tomorrow’s most popular attractions. Indeed the Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company aimed to make this glass furniture fantasy into a commercial reality when in 1947 Henry Turchin of the H.H. Turchin Company in New York styled a line of glass furniture for the manufacturer that debuted at the well-known Grand Rapids Furniture Mart. One journalist reviewed that “Because it is modern, practical, and has new beauty, glass furniture contributes much to the livability of any home.” [1]

 

[1] “Glass Furniture,” Pittsburgh Plate Products, January/February 1947, 8.

 

Emily Orr is Assistant Curator of Modern and Contemporary American Design at Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum.

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