Our museum feature this month is a Dolly Madison cordial produced by the Fostoria Glass Company. Dolley Madison, the wife of President James Madison, was the public face of Madison’s administration and a powerful political figure in her own right. A sociable, stylish, and charming hostess, “Queen” Dolley, became the most important woman in Washington society during her tenure as First Lady. She knew the first twelve presidents, from George Washington to Zackary Taylor, and created an inviting public space for entertaining by decorating the White House in a way that combined elegant simplicity and high fashion. Dolley’s niece later characterized her aunt by stating, “You like yourself more when you are with her.” Dolley is also known for the bravery and poise she displayed in saving the Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington just before British troops set fire to the White House during the War of 1812. When Dolley died in 1849, her funeral was the largest Washington had yet seen. So how did Dolley Madison, the woman who’s widely regarded as America’s first “First Lady,” come to have her name attached to a Fostoria cordial?
The Centennial International Exhibition of 1876 in Philadelphia sparked a renewed fervor for American history, particularly the colonial period and America’s founding figures. This interest came to be called “Colonial Revival,” and its influence is most commonly seen in architecture. In the years following the Centennial International Exhibition, several states decided to build their state pavilions in the style of the Colonial Revival, and by 1909 there was a colonial furniture exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. During and after World War I, new government housing for war workers was built in the colonial style, and in 1933, the Library of Congress launched its Historic American Buildings Survey, a program created to research, document, and photograph historic, colonial homes.
As the Colonial Revival movement gained momentum in the latter nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the advertising industry discovered linking colonial references to their products was a useful marketing device. As a popular figure known for being an excellent hostess, Dolley Madison’s name was especially valuable to advertisers. Soon, Dolley’s name was being used to sell ice cream, cigars, dolls, fabrics, hats, stockings, watches, tableware, and a multitude of other items. (Many companies spelled her name Dolly Madison as that was thought to be the correct spelling at the time. It wasn’t until 1958, when the Smithsonian Institution exhibited Dolley Madison's 1809 inaugural gown, that research by the Smithsonian staff revealed “Dolley” was the proper spelling of her given name.)
Fostoria was one of several glass and tableware companies to start a line of “Dolly Madison” products. Their Dolly Madison pattern, produced from 1939 to 1973, was elegant in design, and featured cut flutes on the bottom of the bowl. Fostoria’s Dolly Madison comprised a profusion of different stemware pieces, among which were water goblets, iced tea glasses, old fashioned glasses, cordials, and more.
Fostoria began as a glass-producing house in 1887. Initially, the factory was located in Fostoria, Ohio, but would only be located there a short time. Although the townspeople of Fostoria, Ohio had given their land to the glass company for free, Fostoria Glassworks was unable to remain due to a lack of natural resources. The promise of more abundant resources for producing glass caused the company’s leaders to make the decision to move. Within four years, Fostoria moved to Moundsville, West Virginia.
By 1925, Fostoria’s factory had expanded to include five more furnaces. Primarily, the company produced decorative lamps and stemware pieces for the American home. Competing actively against Cambridge, Heisey, and Westmoreland Glass, Fostoria would soon emerge as the leader in the American glassware market. It is during this period that Fostoria began marketing lines of colored dinnerware and stemware pieces. The new products became an immediate success. The rise of industry throughout the nineteenth century had Americans turning away from afternoon teas and luncheons. Instead, these events quickly evolved into casual brunches and after work cocktail parties. The colored pieces were ideal for polished casual entertaining.
Throughout the 1930s, Fostoria struggled to survive. The Great Depression had a notable impact on the luxury glassware market. Although many of Fostoria’s competitors would be forced out of business during the depression, innovative marketing techniques and business-savvy managers would allow Fostoria to survive. World War II reduced Fostoria’s labor force by half and caused much of the company’s resources to be devoted to the war effort. Like many other companies throughout the United States, Fostoria weathered the hardships imposed by war. It is during the war period that Fostoria produced many of its most famous patterns including Chintz (1940), Colony (1940), Romance (1942), and Holly (1942).
Following World War II, Fostoria would begin its most aggressive expansion. Its labor force was increased to its prewar number, more natural resources were made available to the company, and the demand for casual and elegant dinnerware would increase to an all-time high. New technologies developed during the war allowed Fostoria to create beautiful patterns that were easily maintained and added an air of elegance to any dining event. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, Fostoria introduced more lines of beautiful crystal including Century (1950), Rose (1951), Wedding Ring (1953), and Jamestown (1959).
The company continued to do well through the 1960s and 1970s. The company developed a marketing strategy that created a new form of consumer-producer relationship. Boutiques and display rooms were built into many fashionable jewelry and department stores. Additionally, the company began publishing its own consumer direct magazine, “Creating with Crystal.” These and other marketing strategies kept Fostoria as a leader in the glass producing industry.
Throughout the 1970s, foreign competition increased. Fostoria sold its stock and the Moundsville factory to the Lancaster Colony Corporation. The managing directors of Lancaster Colony made the decision to close the factory and sell the remaining stock directly to consumers in 1983. The factory closed its doors and many of Fostoria’s original pieces and molds were sold. Throughout its history, Fostoria maintained a sound financial strategy, allowing them to expand and grow at will. Although Lancaster Colony closed Fostoria in 1983, the Fostoria name is indicative of an American legend, and Fostoria pieces remain highly collectible.
Although the Dolly Madison cordial in our museum is not for sale, we do have cordials and other Fostoria Dolly Madison items available from our inventory. We also carry Dolly Madison crystal by Heisey, and Tiffin/Franciscan, and Dolly Madison china by Castleton, Rosenthal/Continental, and Lamberton (among others), and Dolly Madison silver by Gorham, International, and Durgin. Replacements, Ltd. also carries a wide selection of Fostoria in other patterns that are available for purchase; be sure to browse our web site. And remember that we always invite you to visit our facilities – here you'll see a stunning variety of silver, china, crystal, and collectibles. Our 500,000-square-foot facilities hold more than 12 million individual pieces in more than 425,000 patterns. Our showroom and museum are open from 9:00 am to 7:00 pm ET, 7 days (except holidays); free tours are available from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm ET, 7 days. The showroom and museum are conveniently located between Greensboro and Burlington, NC, at exit 132 off Interstate 85/40. We look forward to seeing you!