Industry played big part in Jeannette's heyday

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First incorporated as a borough on June 7, 1889, Jeannette earned the nickname as "the glass city" in recognition of the numerous glass plants founded within its borders.

The impact of the glass industry was so significant that the town was named for Jeannette E. Hartupee McKee, the wife of H. Sellers McKee, a local industrialist who cofounded the Chambers and McKee Glass Works and was a member of the elite South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club of Johnstown flood fame.

Mr. McKee and his partner J.A. Chambers also have the distinction of naming Jeannette's main street -Clay Avenue - after their financial backer, Richard W. Clay.

On Jan.1, 1938, Jeannette became a third-class city with attorney John M. O'Connell as the first mayor.

At times, there were as many as seven significant glass factories operating in the town's borders, including some of the most well known in the history of the industry, such as Jeannette Glass, Fort Pitt Glass, the Pittsburgh Lamp, Brass and Glass Company and American-Saint Gobain. Many of the town's residents also worked at the Westmoreland Glass factory located only a short distance outside of town in the Hempfield village of Grapeville.

The industry supplied the country with everything from plate glass windows to bottles to dinnerware to candy containers and much more for many decades. Various accounts claim that Jeannette once produced some70 to 85 percent of the world's glass.

But, glass was not the only industry associated with Jeannette. In 1914, William Swan Elliott moved his company to Jeannette. The Elliott Company was owned by the Carrier Corporation from 1957 until 1979 and then by United Technologies Corporation until a 1987 buyout returned the company to a privately owned status. It became an Ebara Corporation subsidiary in 2000.

In 1952, the company produced the first diesel-engine turbocharger used in a race car and subsequently built more than 40,000 more for other diesel applications.

Throughout the 1970s, local residents routinely witnessed a revolving door of trains hauling parts into the plant on North Fourth Street and hauling the huge turbine engines back down the tracks. Today, the Elliott Company is the city's largest employer.

The Pennsylvania Rubber Works, which moved to Jeannette from Erie around 1903, was yet another key part of the city's industrial base. It made products for Jeeps and gas masks during WWII. After that it made play balls (basketballs, footballs, tennis balls, etc.) and carpet underlay as part of the General Tire corporation.

The city flourished from the early part of the 20th century until the late 1960s, when it boasted a diverse population of around 16,000.

During its heyday, the city was home to Jeannette District Memorial and Monsour hospitals (both now closed) and had a business district that included several department stores, including J.C. Penney and Royers. There were also several theaters and nightclubs, making it a popular entertainment spot.

The tide began to turn in the 1970s, with industrial plant layoffs and store closures. It was the start of a decline from which Jeannette has not yet recovered.

Today, businesses are sparse, there are no more theaters, and the population has dropped to 9,600 residents.

-- Compiled by Linda Metz

neigh_east - neigh_westmoreland

First Published May 9, 2013 9:45 AM


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