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The history of the Ajka Glass Factory - part three


Table of contents
The Ajka glassworks halted production on 4 August 1914 due to the labour shortage caused by the general mobilisation. After a stoppage period of twenty months production was restarted in March of 1916, with one kiln employing about a hundred workers. The first to be provided with work were those who lived in factory flats, in other words the skilled workers and their families. Greenish utility and pharmaceutical ware was made of domestic raw material. (Pharmaceutical jars sold particularly well, as the authorities forbade the reuse of these bottles to prevent epidemics.) At that time the factory worked 14 hours five days of the week, as domestic raw materials took much longer to smelt than the higher quality imports. This enforced schedule meant a setback compared to pre-war conditions, but it was still a godsend for those desperate for any kind of employment Wartime deprivations, the despair caused by the country's losses, social tensions, and general dissatisfaction led to intensified trade union organisation. Initiated by David Kovacs glass presser who became its first president, a new trade union was formed. Recruited mainly from the ranks of glassworkers, the union's membership varied between 25 and 30. Members of the trade union were also members of the Social Democratic Party, as the former was operated under the auspices of the latter. Wartime inflation prompted the workers to demand pay-rises, which was declined by the management. As a response production was brought to a halt, and after two weeks' strike the management granted the rise demanded. As the war drew to its end, demonstrations became more and more frequent. The proclamation of the Hungarian People’s Republic and the events that were to follow occurred without bloodshed at Ajka. Much of the credit goes to the management for enabling the factory and the firm to continue their activities after the war under very different circumstances.
Hungary's entire economy, and within that the glass industry, received an apparently fatal blow with the restructuring of Europe, which here meant the disannexation of two thirds of the country's territory, the disintegration of the Habsburg Monarchy, the loss of the Russian markets, the chaos that the Balkans fell into, and the heavy reparations payable after the lost war. In 1918 the National Association of Glassmakers held its conventions, chaired by Lipot Ascher, at the headquarters of the National Association of Industrial Manufacturers. The melancholy mood characterising the few members appearing for the events was fully understandable, given the fact that 21 glass factories had suspended production and ten more, with Ajka among them, operated with a reduced workforce until they, too, had to close down. Although the glassmakers' journal carried its leader under the fresh slogan "No, no, never!" there was some room left in it for professional as well as political topics. The editorial listed the country's remaining glass factories, such as the Hungarian Mechanical Bottle Factory (Sajoszentpeter), Count Mihaly Karolyi's Glass Factory (Parad), Count Laszlo Karolyi's Glass Factory (Megyer), Janos Kossuch's Glass Factory (Ajka), The Glass Factory of the Muller Brothers (Tokod) and the Salgotarjan Bottle Factory. Then the association itself was swept away in the swirlwind of events.
Of the Kossuch company's estates only the Ajka glass factory, the Budapest glassware and pottery warehouse and the company headquarters in Budapest, a facility that remained the management centre of the entire firm, survived. The glass factory itself resumed production after a shutdown-period of three months in September of 1921. This marked the beginning of a new era in the history of the glassworks. The necessary reorganisation was supervised by Nandor Teufel, engineer and the firm's general partner. His name was to be held in high respect among glassworkers in times to come. Production was restarted with 182 employees (144 men and 38 women) whose number was gradually increased to 457 by 1945. As an essential means of keeping employees, a colony of 12 buildings was raised, The surety-loan system of the turn-of-the-century period was revived to help workers save up their earnings. The journal of the National Association of Glassmakers, which was reestablished in 1922, announced in a brief report that "János Kossuch's Katalin Glass works dismissed all of its employees as of the end of November...” Surprising as it is, the news was in close connection with the factory's plans of development. The explanation is the fact that the Katalin Glassworks plant was at a distance of seven kilometres of the nearest railway station, which is why the enlargement of the Ajka plant, which had its own side-line and was next to the station, was a more promising proposition. Of Hungary's hollowglass factories only the ones at Ajka and Parad remained in the country after the peace treaty of Trianon, a circumstance which held out the promise of endless opportunities. That was because Hungary had lost two thirds of its territory and, with it. five-sixth of its glass factories. Of its 35 units 30 were thus transferred into the ownership of neighbouring countries.
There were changes made in Budapest, too, With the permission of the interior minister Arpad Bardos - now under his newly assumed name of Bardos-Feltoronyi resigned from the presidency of the firm in 1925, His younger brother Oszkar Bardos, who was elected Arpad's successor, remained at the head of the company until 1933, The workers of Ajka were more or less satisfied with their lot: they had a powerful and efficient trade union, with thriving cultural and sports activities making life pleasanter. Here are a few examples to illustrate the latter the chorus of the factory enjoyed a reputation at home and abroad, the younger of the employees staged theatrical performances, and in 1923 football was also introduced to the workers' community.
Glass-cutting workshop on the Kossuch factory1930 was a year of renewed tensions. At the March meeting of the National Association of Glassmakers, the bill proposing the introduction of the 8-hour working day was discussed but in view of the chronic labour shortage that characterised the industry, the suggestion was deemed unfeasible. The glassmakers went so far as to resign their membership of the Employers' Centre. This is how Nandor Teufel explained the decision: " ... under the prevailing conditions, the industry cannot afford to have its hands tied with regard to labour relations. In view of the relatively small number of workers employed in the industry, its representatives can see no advantage of joining the centre to counterbalance the proposed restrictions." Teufel was aware that if a third party stepped in between management and labour, the hard-won mutual trust that characterised relations at the Ajka factory could easily be forfeited. In this delicate situation Oszkar Bardos resigned his chairmanship in the association, but he was prevailed on by the membership to withdraw his resignation; however, his post as president of the firm he transferred to Dr. Tibor Eleod.
The Great Depression that hit the world economy in 1929 enforced the restructuring of the whole industry. As early as 1930, the Ajka, Tokod, Salgótarjan Ltd. was established and continued its operations as a share company selling glassware under the new name ÜVÉRT from 1932. The president of the firm was dr. Istvan Fedak, while the deputy presidency was filled by Sandor Halasz. Istvan Juhasz, an expert manager who had gained plentiful experience in the glass factories of Upper Northern Hungary, was appointed head of the Ajka plant. Although Juhasz implemented certain changes in the management, work was organised along traditional lines. It is to a large degree due to his managerial expertise that production increased despite the depression.
"The Duty list of the Ajka Glassworks", a document approved even by the chief district constable, records the individual trades as follows:
a. glass blowers and pressers,
b. mould-turners,
c. glass smelters,
d. bricklayers, potters,
e. engine operators, and locksmiths,
f. grinders,
g. cutters, chasers and engravers, who reported to the kiln chief in the kiln, the chief warehouse attendant in the warehouse while everywhere else they took their orders from the operations officers and the foremen. In the fields of glass cutting and chasing the name of Janos Tatar deserves especial mention, while the superior quality of painting was guaranteed by the work of Rezso (Szépműves) Stricsek, who came to Ajka in 1929. In preparation for the International Spring Fair of 1932, the range of the factory's products was enlarged to include finer and yet less expensive azure and topaz glassware, together with crystal, deep-cut and painted decorations as well as chiselled ware, which were all exhibited at the event.
Competition was made increasingly keen by the continuing depression and the decreasing purchasing power that characterised the markets. This, however, remained invisible on the surface; indeed the industry mounted an impressive exhibition in 1934. Here is how the event was covered by the glassmakers' journal: "... the factory at Ajka, T okod and Salgótarjan had gathered together the entire crop of Hungary's hollow-glass production to present the enormous advances made by the country's industry ... " A circular issued by the National Association of Glassmakers painted a very different picture of the bleak reality under the shiny surface:
"Conditions prevailing in the glass industry have been disheartening for a long time, but in the past 4 or 5 years the situation has become positively hopeless. There is no other industry in the country that has been as badly hit as that of the glassmakers ..."
Competition among the glass manufacturers was carried on with means not always of the fairest. Means that included the luring away of each other's workers (for example the Mechanical Bottle Factory persuaded 21 men to leave Tokod for their sake) a trick outlawed earlier under a rule passed by the Association. The ministry forbade the invitation of workforce from abroad, which is why it was nearly impossible to find replacements for those quitting their jobs. As a counter-measure a glassmakers' cartel was formed, which was joined by Ajka, too, in 1932. Members agreed to deny reemployment to arbitrary job-quitters. Ajka was in a special position within the cartel as emphasis was laid on work done by hand here as opposed to the practice of inserting machinery into the technological process prevailing elsewhere. This was unavoidably reflected in the wages which where of course adjusted to the higher prestige of work done by hand. (Needless to say, the higher wages received by the employees of Ajka became a bone of contention in the cartel.) Within the factory, workshops specialising on particular product categories were set up, such as the cup-makers' and the glass-makers' sections, or the hollow-ware and the pressed-ware divisions.
The growth in the number of workers engaged in the cup-makers' section in itself testifies the fact that sets and ornamental ware requiring delicate work done by hand became increasingly important products. Of these, the job of cup-making could only be trusted to the best-trained workers with plenty of experience. A major change was introduced in this division when, in 1936, two, rather than the previous one, assistant blowers were employed in the workshop and another worker specialising on making stems was also hired. Before that both stem and bottom were made by the master, while he was now left in charge of making the bottoms only. Those working in the hollowware division were masters of making gourds, large flagons and special medical glassware. However, the bulk of the products made here was made up of ware used in bars such as bottles ranging in liquid capacity from 0.05 to 1.0 litre, bottles for Bordeaux wine and tomato as well as jars for pickled cucumber. The factory could rely on a steady demand for these products. The increase in the production of glass sets necessitated the introduction of three shifts, a system that was in use from 1937 to 1943.
Joining the cartel did little to ease internal tensions within the Kossuch company, a fact suggested by the resignation from his managerial position of Tibor Eleod in 1936. He was succeeded in his job by Zoltan Solt Eleod, formerly the director and CEO of the Bohemian firm Jan Kossuch A.G. His outgoing personality soon made him popular with the workers at Ajka. And yet for all his expertise he was unable to solve the problems caused by the disagreement dividing the partners.
Kossuch factory: glass blowing workshopThe beginning of 1938 was spent in a festive mood. To mark the 60th anniversary of the factory's founding, ministerial counsellor Ferenc Arkay decorated kiln chief Ferenc Hegyvari (Hajek), operations officer József Balvanyosi (Waller). master glass-blower Ferenc Bakonyi (Beitl) Sr. and master cutter Imre Tóth with the "Loyalty Award" in recognition of "more than 30 years of industrious work". The awardees were toasted by Dr. Tibor Eleod on behalf of the company. But then hardly a few months had passed before Akos Eleod was heard complaining of the difficulties attendant on the introduction of the eight-hour working day. The change forced the company to pass extraordinary measures. Recognising the hardships that the factory was faced with, the workers accepted the pay cuts that went together with the shortening of working hours. No wonder that the announcement that as of 1 October, the workforce was to be reduced to 50 hands because of insufficient liquidity and sales cuts ordered by the carter was met with bitter indignation. Meanwhile the installment of one flat-grate generator in 1938 and another one in 1939 to replace two, superannuated, rotary-grate generators indicates that there were some technological advances made at the factory. But in reality the factory had to stockpile its products as not a single carload of glassware left the factory for weeks. The solution to the dire difficulties besetting the company appeared to lie in the selling of the factory to Lipót Ascher, the proprietor of the Tokod glassworks, who intended to eliminate competition through the purchase. The Kossuchs could thus have got rid of their debts, but that would have entailed the shutdown of the factory. To protest against these plans, the glass-blowers took industrial action and turned to the parish priest of the village Aladar Kakas asking him to mediate. The priest went to Budapest on the first day of the strike, where he was received by the secretary of state for industrial affairs. The high-ranking government official assured the workers of his help and ordered an in-loco investigation into the affair. On the fourth day of the strike work in the kiln could thus be resumed; furthermore, it was arranged that the Jack Weis Co., i. e. the Nagykanizsa based wholesaler Erno Veisz (Weiss), would purchase the entire stock What vouchsafed for the quality of the goods produced by the factory was, as had been since 1931, the person of Istvan Juhasz, whose experiments resulted in the creation of "Hungary's crystal", a product that can compete with lead-glassware at home and abroad alike.
The doors to the West were shut on Hungary as the country entered the war. The imports of raw materials also stalled, but this meant no difficulty to the Ajka factory for the time being, as the company had had prudently stockpiled enough raw material for years, which enabled it to carry on making quality glassware. Despite wartime conditions, production was characterised by the customary high aesthetic standards; in fact, the factory scored great successes at the exhibition "Art in Industry" held in 1943. Designer Solt Eleod and sculptor Istvan Lorincz were awarded certificates of excellence by the minister of culture. Silver medals awarded by the minister of industry were given to master glass-blower Karoly Torvenyi and cutter Karoly Ludvigh, workshop-supervisor.
In 1942 Ajka was declared a defence company so that workers came under martial law, which meant that any labour action or other withdrawal of labour was regarded as sabotage. (The factory was supervised by major Gyula Domotor, who was relieved of his office in 1943 for having abused his powers and sentenced to death after the war.) The series of glorious successes in applied arts was terminated when imported raw materials ran out. Domestic quartz sand was not suitable for anything but the manufacture of household utility articles.
As neither pickle jars, nor tomato-sauce bottles have any obvious battle-field application the workers often wondered why on earth theirs had become a war factory. But the truth is that this state of affairs was not without certain advantages - the factory was not closed down and its workers were not drafted into the army. The buildings of the factory remained intact during the hostilities as neither the frontline nor the aerial bombardment caused any significant damages. What meant serious difficulties, however, was the loss of profit related to the cessation of exports since the outbreak of the war. Large quantities of unsold products accumulated in the company's warehouses, which is why payment of wages was delayed by five to six weeks. Runaway inflation also badly hit the men as well as the company. In early 1945, stalling raw-material supplies and coal-shortages lead to the termination of production. During the sixty-day long shutdown workers tried to find employment at Ajka in the mines, at the power plant and the alumina factory, A musterroll made in April of 1945 reveals that production at the kiln had been restarted: the commander-in-chief of the 3rd Ukrainian Front had ordered 200,000 glass military water-bottles.
<< Part Two   Part Four >>

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