Imperial Slag

Lucile Remembers


A Conversation with Lucile Kennedy

Interviewed by Ron Doll



On July 30th, 1992, I had the distinct honor of interviewing Miss Lucile Kennedy. As many of you know, Lucile is a 40 year veteran of Imperial having held numerous positions: Typist, Secretary, Special Sales Assistant, Customer Relations Director, Assistant to the President, Sales Manager, and Special Markets Director. (All during a time and in an industry dominated by men.)

As always, I found Lucile to be very considerate and thoughtful person. We spent a couple of enjoyable hours discussing her many experiences. With her kind permission, we intentend to share segments of these conversations with you (as the subject matter relates to topics featured in the ( GLASSZETTE ).

The following is the discussion on Slag Glass: "R" Ron Doll / "L" Lucile Kennedy

R: How did Slag Glass come to be made at Imperial?

L: There was a LaSalle & Koch Department Store in Toledo. They Had invited many of us up there - the entire industry - to have a glass promotion of American made glass. I was there and Mrs. Betty Belknap, whose husband, E.M. Belknap, had written a book titled Milk Glass was there, as was Mr. George McKearin. If you are familiar with the old glass, Mr. McKearn wrote a very authoritative book, Two Hundred Years of American Blown Glass, with his daughter Helen. Mrs. Belknap invited Mr. McKearin and me to her home for dinner. After dinner, she took us upstairs to the attic to show us some of their old glass and there were bushel baskets full of slag glass. I didn't know what it was! I was in the presence of Mr. McKearin and I wasn't going to say, "What is this stuff?" I just admired the beauty of it. I didn't know what I was looking at but I knew that it was very interesting.

When I got back to the factory, I was telling Mr. Gustkey about the trip, the promotion, the LaSalle & Koch show, and the visit with Mrs. Belknap. I said, "I don't know what I saw, but I thought it was beautiful." He said, "Well you know you haven't studied the Belknap book yet. "I said. "No. I just got it." He said, "Well, turn to the back of it and it will show you. You'll see what Slag Glass is." Then he asked, "Do you think we should have some?" I said, "Oh yes!" (In the part of the market that I saw, I think there were some people making a little bit of Slag, but most of it was going to antique dealers as reproductions.) He said, "Well, you choose the items and we will take a look at it at a later date." (At the time we were very busy making Milk Glass and didn't need another line.) When it falls on your shoulders, you don't gamble very much and I was a bit afraid. I said, "Well maybe just do a dozen or so items, a very small collection and make them in Purple Slag."

A few years later we brought it out and it didn't do very well the first go-around. I was feeling terrible; I thought: we've got to take it out of production. He said, "What do you think we ought to do Miss K?" I said, "I don't know; I'm sorry; I really thought it would sell." He said, "Do you know what's wrong with it? Have you learned anything?" I said, "No, I don't know what is wrong with it; I think it is priced right; I think it's beautiful. And, I will have to be very careful what I suggest from now on!" He said, "No, that's not what I want you to do. I want you to realize what the mistake is." I said, "What's the mistake?" He said, "You don't have enough confidence in it. You didn't bring enough pieces to make a decent presentation. Act like you really believe in it and it will sell." I said, "Why did you let me do it?" He said, "You've got to learn." We added more items and, as you know, it became extremely popular. We made Purple Slag, Carmel Slag, Ruby Slag (we called it End O' Day Ruby), Green Slag (called Jade Slag) and it just proves that you've got to believe in it and do it right. To start with just nine items (as we did in 1959) was just not enough to make an impact in our displays, on our customer's shelves or on our salesmen. Carl Gustkey was a really good teacher.

When we enlarged the line, it started to sell. And, of course, that was hard to explain to our salesmen: "This didn't sell so we're going to give you more!" It didn't make sense but it worked. However, it only worked in some areas. It did not work down in the Southeast as much as it did in other places. Usually, when I went to a show (the salesmen paid their own showrooms and so you didn't feel that you had the right to go in and tell them anything about their showroom) you just hoped, always, that they were going to give you a choice spot and the best possible display. We were very fortunate. We were the number one line with the most salesmen, so we usually got a nice place in their display. In Atlanta, our Slag wasn't selling and I said to our salesmen, Kelly Tilghman, "Do you mind if, during this show, I really concentrate on the Slag? Because not only are we missing sales, but you are missing out because we are really selling it and you're not". He said, "I've tried. I can't sell it." I said okay; maybe I can't either, but let me try. I lived by that display. I did everything that other salesmen were doing to "sell" Slag Glass - I rearranged the display, I gave the best "sales pitch" I knew, but it just did not work. I sold very little Slag Glass at that particular show! We sold some, but it was not very successful line in the Southeast.

R: Who chose the colors for Slag?

L: I chose the first one. Usually it was Mr. Gustkey, but always with input from our Chemist / Engineer / Glassmaker, Axel Ottoson. And also with suggestions from the salesmen and anyone in the office who had a good idea.

R: Why did you start with purple?

L: It looked like what I remembered seeing in Toledo and what was in the Belknap book. I liked the purple.

R: What was the most successful color?

L: Purple Slag was very successful, but so was Caramel Slag. I just don't know! We made Jade Slag for only a short time, we had production problems with this color - the green and the milk glass weren't very compatible. I thought the Jade was beautiful; but it didn't sell well. We did a few pieces in Blue: an ash tray, a pipe bowl and a toothpick holder. It didn't sell. End O' Day Ruby sold very well, but was only in the line for a few years. We discontinued all Slag Glass in 1977.

R: Did Imperial experiment with any other colors of Slag?

L: I remember an attempt to make a Black Slag. It was very pretty, a 505 Toothpick, but it was a little to gray. It never went into production.

R: Where did the "End O' Day" name come from? Who's idea was that?

L: That was Mr. Gustkey's. Ninety percent of everything good that happened with a product: the marketing, the words, the ideas, were Carl Gustkey's. I used to call him P.T. Barnum!

R: Technically speaking, there is no such thing as "end of the day glass" at Imperial. Even the older glass workers say that it wasn't something they just did at the end of their shift. It was specifically made that way.

L: That's right. Our Slag Glass was made "specifically" and during regular production hours. They called it End O' Day because the men of the very, very early times were allowed to play around with the glass that was left at the end of the day; they could make what ever they wanted out of it. (They made some very different and interesting pieces of Slag Glass.) Mr. Gustkey was quite a student of old glass. It was an appropriate name: End O' Day.

R: Do you remember the process? Did you ever go down into the factory and watch them make slag?

L: Yes, many times. We used two different processes; both required two "pots" or "daytanks" of glass - one was milk glass and the other was a color. In one process the gatherer would gather a gob of milk glass and then gather a gob of colored glass over it. This process was used for large pieces.

R: One Right over the top of the other?

L: Right over the the top. In the other process, the one one we used the most, the milk glass was ladled into the center of the pot of colored glass and the gatherer would then gather from the center of the ring.

R: Pulling the color through the milk glass.

L: Yes, then they dropped into the mold, and who knew where it was going to go? Right, left, up or down, inside, out. When we were selling it, the best explanation we had was that it's like when your wife makes marble cake. You'd say, "Oh honey, that's so pretty! I'd like to take that to the office. Can you make another one just like it?" No Way! That was the beauty of Slag and nice part of selling it; because we could tell our customers, "Never, ever, are the two pieces exactly alike." I defy you ever find two that are exactly alike. So it gave you a lot to talk about and it was, you could tell from the number of colors we did, an extremely successful line.

If you would like to read more on Slag Glass here is another story by E. Ward Russell & Walter Devine.

Slag Glass by E. Ward Russell & Walter Devine

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