Young and Hungry

Random Foodie History: Why Waterford Crystal Was Founded in Ireland

waterfordIf you haven't yet paged through James and Kay Salter's Life Is Meals, a sort of daily prayer book for foodaholics, do yourself the favor.  I was randomly flipping through it today and fell upon the entry for July 17, which details the founding of the company that would become Waterford Crystal in Ireland, of all places.

Write the Salters:

Glass in 18th-century England was a sign of wealth, and windows were taxed so heavily that people bricked them up. In the case of table glasses, the result was more positive. Glasses were taxed by weight, so there was every incentive to produce the lightest possible designs, often with delicate stems.

For economic reasons, Ireland was exempt from the tax. There the leaded glass invented by Englishman George Ravenscroft in about 1675 flourished in coastal towns like Waterford and Cork, where fuel, in the form of coal, was available and cheap. Using Ravenscroft's techniques, George and William Penrose founded the Waterford Glass House in 1783, which prospered for over sixty-five years before falling beneath the weight of a tax law that extended to Ireland, along with the potato famine that forced many skilled workers to leave. Waterford Glass — crystal — wasn't revived for another one hundred years.

Out of curiosity, I checked the Waterford Crystal's Web site to see how it spells out its own history. I found this sentence particularly telling:

But less than 100 years later the initial company failed due to lack of capital and excessive taxation.

Excessive taxation as in...any taxation.

  • Tony Hayes

    Hi, Is'nt it unfortunate that since the collapse of Waterford Wedgewood and subsequent takeover this year by US equity firm KPS capitol, that once again we do not produce crystal any longer here in Waterford. Our once thriving glass industry, and tourist destination, are now just consigned to the history books and now Waterford Crystal is just another 'glass' made in low wage economies. Our city has been ruined by this.

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