Four glassworks operated in Alexandria at the turn of the century, and at least one, Old Dominion Glass Co., employed African-American men and women. The factory, large by Alexandria standards, operated from 1901-1925 on North Fairfax Street between First and Montgomery streets. Many of its roughly 250 black and white workers lived in the surrounding Cross Canal neighborhood, named for its location on the already defunct Alexandria Canal.
Old Dominion specialized in beer, soda, and medicine bottles. During holidays and in slow times, employees turned out novelty items like glass canes and pig-shaped bottles. In 1981, an African-American resident of Cross Canal, Virginia Knapper, recalled what it was like to work at Old Dominion:
“The glass was made in something like a furnace. It was runny, well, it was more soupy than dough. I'd say it would be more like the dough you make pancakes [from]. They had these long tools that they stick in there and wind around until they got a certain amount...on the stick when they take it out...it looked like a stone...they rolled it up and down, up and down, and there'd be two of us sitting at the molds...I was a mold girl once, and then I also [did] what they used to call "snapper" when it came out of the mold. [I'd] be right there with my gadget and snap it off.“
In June 1911, six African-American boys who worked at Old Dominion posed for a photograph by Lewis Hine for his soon-to-be famous expose of child labor practices in American factories. A large group of black and white boys also posed for Hine, who noted a few of their names and addresses. “I counted 7 white boys and several colored boys that seemed to be under 14 years old,” Hines wrote in his caption for the photograph.
While both blacks and whites worked in the Old Dominion glassworks, it’s unclear whether they worked side by side on the same jobs. Many industries segregated blacks and whites according to the jobs they worked. Some southern industries, like textiles, were strictly segregated; others, such as coal mining, had integrated workforces.
The Old Dominion Glass Co. building was destroyed by fire in 1925.
Located at North Fairfax and Montgomery streets.
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At North Fairfax and Montgomery streets