Cover for Fones-Wolf: Glass Towns: Industry, Labor, and Political Economy in Appalachia, 1890-1930s. Click for larger image

Glass Towns

Industry, Labor, and Political Economy in Appalachia, 1890-1930s

Exploring a path not taken in Appalachian economic development--one that might have led away from underdevelopment

One of the central questions facing scholars of Appalachia concerns how a region so rich in natural resources could end up a symbol of poverty. Typical culprits include absentee landowners, reactionary coal operators, stubborn mountaineers, and greedy politicians. In a deft combination of labor and business history, Glass Towns complicates these answers by examining the glass industry’s potential to improve West Virginia’s political economy by establishing a base of value-added manufacturing to complement the state’s abundance of coal, oil, timber, and natural gas.

Through case studies of glass production hubs in Clarksburg, Moundsville, and Fairmont (producing window, tableware, and bottle glass, respectively), Ken Fones-Wolf looks closely at the impact of industry on local populations and immigrant craftsmen. He also examines patterns of global industrial restructuring, the ways workers reshaped workplace culture and political action, and employer strategies for responding to global competition, unreliable markets, and growing labor costs at the end of the nineteenth century.


"While those interested in the region's local history will enjoy the chapters dealing with the West Virginia glass towns, the book will appeal primarily to academic audiences. Those interested in business, labor, and ethnic history will find this to be a useful study. Recommended."--Choice

"Ken Fones-Wolf's long awaited study on the glass industry in West Virginia is a welcome corrective, offering readers a more complex and polychromatic, albeit still bleak, narrative of Appalachia's economic past. . . . Fones-Wolf is able not only to trace the history of glass-making in each community, but also to make interesting comparisons and contrasts among the three regarding structure and behavior of labor, the organization and strategies adopted by capital, the differential technological imperatives in each branch of the industry, and the manner in which the local factors shaped the political economy of each community."--Labor History

"Glass Towns effectively chronicles a story of the restructuring of both local and state economies in which technological, economic, political, geographical, cultural, and geological factors all shaped the process."--Technology and Culture

"Ken Fones-Wolf helps to broaden our vision of capitalist development in the mountains with his perceptive study of West Virginia's glass industry. . . . This well-researched and highly readable study forces us to look beyond coal and other extractive industries for explanations of the economic and political distress that has plagued the region."--West Virginia History

"By relating political and economic decisions to one another, Glass Towns offers a more complex look at West Virginia history and may well serve as a model for future historical research about the Mountain State and the Appalachian region."--Goldenseal

"Ken Fones-Wolf has written a fine, provocative and iconoclastic book that merits most serious attention. It encourages a rethinking of glass-making on both sides of the Atlantic and a much needed reappraisal of the making of one of America's most interesting and perplexing regions."--International Review of Social History


Ken Fones-Wolf is a professor of history at West Virginia University. He is coeditor of Transnational West Virginia: Ethnic Communities and Economic Change, 1840-1940 and author or editor of three other books.

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