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EARLY GLASSMAKING TECHNOLOGIES AT AJKA CRYSTAL

Table of contents
 
RAW MATERIALS
MELTING
THE FURNACE
WORK AT THE FURNACE
GLASSES PASSED FROM HAND TO HAND
COOLING
 
The first glass-works in the Transdanubian region to break with the Feudal traditions of manufacture style glassmaking was the Ajka factory. No small part was played in that by the masters - some twenty families and their descendants, who effected the transfer from a craftsmen's to a factory technology. At the beginning, Neumann's factory applied the methods used in forest glass-works, but later he came to be the first in the region to introduce coal-fired furnaces in glass-melting.
 
RAW MATERIALS
At Ajka, the grinding machines were driven by manpower and the quartz mill was moved by a horse-pulled cart at the beginning, while later on an eight-horse-power steam engine was installed to provide mechanical propulsion.
As no raw material was locally available for making crucibles, this had to be shipped from Bavaria. The fact that two potters were employed at the factory suggests that the crucibles were made from imported material.
Before being ground, quartz was heated in a furnace; with water poured over it the hot mineral would be pulverised. This was followed by milling and then smelting.
Lime was also used in the process to make glass more resistant Feldspar containing sodium and cryolite was used with opaline glass, while tinted glass was made with black manganese. Besides adding colour to the glass, the latter eliminated the green tint caused by iron-oxide. Two types of glass were made with silicic acid, potassium and natrium. Transparent colourless glass was made with the addition of potash. Although this was soon replaced with soda, which was both cheaper and melted more quickly, but glassware made in this way lacked the fire and brillance of items made with potash.
For semi-crystal ware potassium-natrium-carbonate, for colour glass borax and for bleaching saltpetre were used. Saline, sometimes mixed with charcoal, was used for the manufacture of sheet-glass. Beside calcine, the most frequently used additive was scrap glass. For the tinting, clouding and bleaching of glass, chromic-acidic potassium, phosphorous calcium, onyx, cobalt, nickel, and uranium. as well as other chemicals, were applied.
The acids and reductive agents required in the manufacturing of glass were acquired in Fiume, Vienna and Trieste, a particular kind of quartz was bought in Saxony, a type of fire-proof material was purchased in Bavaria and scrap glass was shipped from Budapest among other suppliers - at least initially.
 
MELTING
The first melter working for the factory was Jakab Peidl, whom Neumann had met at Úrkút. But the long time taken by quartz to melt necessitated the employment of at least two smelters.
Glassmakers worked for 16 hours every other day, and the frequent night shifts, the fumes inhaled at the furnaces, together with the extreme temperatures reaching 40 C in summer put a great strain on the workers' constitution. As the smelting period varied between 28 and 32 hours in Neumann's factory, practically every other day was off. But as there was no telling when the processing of molten glass could begin, days off could not be put to any good use.
 
THE FURNACE
Direct heating was applied with Neumann's melting furnaces just as it was done with forest glass-works. The lower section of the dual-compartment furnace was the firing chamber, whose arch was used as a grill where the pots were placed. The upper section with the operating holes was made of trodden clay. Raw material was inserted here and it was also here that molten glass was processed. Pots were inserted and extracted via a gate at either end of the furnace, which was closed with a fireclay slab pasted around with wet clay. Flames from the fire chamber leaped up through the grill, reached around the pots and escaped via the operating vents. As the escape of the flame reduced temperatures, Neumann introduced an innovation applying a grill grating to facilitate the combustion of coals, which increased ventilation in its turn.
While wood was used to fire the system, chambers were built next to the furnaces where heat from the latter was allowed to dry the fuel. A separate tempering furnace was installed in the workshop to be used when used-up pots were replaced, being caused by thin glass threads falling down, the floor was also often swept clean.
 
WORK AT THE FURNACE
Work at the furnace began when the melting process was over. In fact it took another hour or so until the excessively fluid material achieved sufficient viscosity to be processed. For this the temperature of the furnaces was reduced by the unblocking of the operating vents. While the molten glass thus rested tools were set out and the glass was skimmed off. Then the kiln chief would establish the quality of the glass by assessing its colour and blisters. As soon as the blowers roused from their sleep by the clanking of iron rods arrived work could start in earnest.
Before all else, the first foreman called, in accordance with ancient custom, his subordinates to prayer and the workers proceeded to say the Lord's Prayer in German. Surrounded with devotional pictures there was a crucifix hanging on the wall in front of the prayer-leader. After the supplication work was started without any further ado. The rhythm of the activities was set by the solidification curve of the glass mass, which set a time limit to the manufacturing process of the given item, too.
In summer, glassmakers would work barefooted and the floor was frequently cooled with water pored all over it. To prevent accidents being caused by thin glass threads falling down, the floor was also often swept clean.
The 16-hour period of processing was interrupted by three breaks. There was an hour's recess half-way through the shift, which was followed by a half-hour break in the first and another in the second half of the working period. That was when workers took their meal, the period alotted to which was called Mahlzeit. That was also when the young were allowed to go upstairs to the workshop, where they could learn their trade from their masters. When the shift lasted into the night. the one hour break was filled with sleep by the young. Smaller items were made at the beginning of the shift, and the cooler the glass got the larger the objects produced became. (This was obviated by the introduction of regenerator heating as furnace temperatures could be continually controlled.)
In terms of the basic procedures, the technologies used here were no different from those applied abroad. (The superiority of the latter was due to the introduction of Siemens's innovations as well as the fact that the individual workshops specialised on the production of one particular item.)
 
GLASSES PASSED FROM HAND TO HAND
To blow a pedestalled glass or goblet, the gob-handler of the 1870 would "take a gob of molten glass the size needed for the cup of the goblet on his blowing-pipe; this he would hand to the glass-shaper who, after giving the gob the required shape passed the parison on to one of the blowers for him to make a stem for the object, which the latter prepared, without moving from his place, from material supplied by a gob-handler or an apprentice. With the stem applied to the cup, the object was now passed further to a blower, whose job it was to make a base for the object: this worker also received the material from an apprentice so he could stay in position, too. When stem and base were thus in place, a small grip was fixed to the base so it could be handled, and the pipe was detached. The object was then heated by an apprentice at the service hole to soften the cup; and then the object was handed over to the master, who trimmed it at the required height. Now the goblet was reheated once again so it could be given its final shape. Thus being completed the goblet was detached from the tongs and placed on a fork on which it was transferred to the cooler," as the process is described by a contemporary observer.
As the entire process was completed at the furnace, objects made like this were described as readymade at the furnace. The stem was made by hand as well as by pressing it into a stone mould made of clay.
With the technology described above, the kiln could make between 700 and 800 goblets or 1000-1200 tumblers in a 11-12-hour period. This amount of production could only be achieved by highly efficient and meticulously organised work.
 
COOLING
Cooling furnaces played a crucial part in the technological process. In these, glassware taken off the pipes were kept at a steady temperature for awhile before being gradually cooled off. Gradual cooling was important because if the item was placed into an overheated cooler it flattened out while in an underheated one it cracked. There was one cooling furnace operated in Neumann's time at Ajka. Into this all the glassware produced during the shift was packed to be unloaded after the cooling period was over. The tunnel like cooler was loaded at one end and emptied at the other after the firing process. The same method was applied with larger objects, such as pressed items, flagons or pickle-jars.
When the ware was being unloaded, the worker's garment would occasionally catch fire. Transferring the items to the cooler was the job of children, who had better mind their step in case they dropped a piece, highly fragile right off the pipe, if they wanted to avoid the slap that was handed out as a "reward" if an item was broken.

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