The History of the Machine-Made Glass Marble


By Chris Cooper

Martin F. Christensen was the inventor of the revolutionary glass- marble- making- machine in 1902. By designing equipment that automated the marble-making process, glass imitation agates could be produced faster than those manufactured by Elias Greiner Vetters Shon. On October 24, 1905 the M.F. Christensen and Son Company received a patent from the United States Government for the invention of the glass- marble- making- machine. Mark Randall and Dennis Webb (1988) explain that the equipment utilized a pair of wheels with semi- circular grooves that moved in opposite directions from their starting position.

In 1905 Martin F. Christensen and his son Charles opened their business in Stuebenville, Ohio. They had purchased the failed Navarre Glass Marble Company’s factory and hired several of their former employees, including Horace C. Hill. By 1914, the Company was producing over one million marbles per month. The Company operated successfully until December of 1917. In 1917, the Company was forced to close their business with the event of a severely cold winter which depleted the supply of natural gas. The M.F. Christensen and Son Company would never be able to reopen.

Horace C. Hill left the M.F. Christensen and Son Company in 1910 to start his own company. Hill, along with his partners Gilbert C. Marsh and Dr. George T. Rankin began the Akro Agate Company. They first started purchasing marbles the M.F. Christensen and Son Company and would package them into small boxes and bags in the Wagner-Marsh Shoe Store. They would sell them to department stores, making a nice profit. Their business started doing so well they moved the marble business into an old machine shop on East Exchange Street in 1911. There, they began manufacturing marbles using equipment that Horace C. Hill had designed. On March 23, 1911 the Akro Agate Company applied for their now-famous “Akro Agate” trademark. On August 22, 1911 it was registered with the United States Government.

In 1914, the Akro Agate Company moved from Akron, Ohio to Clarksburg, West Virginia where supplies of natural gas and sand were abundant. They had found an old factory that already had its own train spur and loading docks. On December 21, 1915 the Akro Agate Company received a patent from the United States Government for Hill’s glass- marble- making- machine. The Akro Agate Company was young, but they would soon benefit from the effects of the First World War and the automation of the marble making industry.

In 1916, Horace C. Hill died and his partners, Marsh and Rankin, hired John F. Early as the new plant foreman. John F. Early would bring more important design changes to Hill’s equipment. By the 1920’s, the Akro Agate Company was the largest marble producer in the world. John F. Early’s patent in 1932 would double their production capacity. The Company was the most successful of the early machine- made glass marble companies operating from 1910 through 1951

While companies like Elias Greiner Vetters Shon and The Akro Agate Company were successful glass marble makers, the history of marbles is an ancient one. The game of marbles is more than 4000 years old. The Egyptians, and later the Romans, played with marbles made from clay and stone. There are many references to the game of marbles found in ancient Roman literature. The Roman Empire brought the game to Europe and Brittany. Later, Brittany brought the game to America.

In America in the 1920’s and the 1930’s, the game of marbles was as big as baseball with little boys and girls. Berry Pink of the Marble King Company (1930’s) had helped organize over 300 daily newspapers that held annual marble tournaments. Children could compete in their local town, state, and then the National Marbles Tournament. The National Marbles Tournament is still held in Wildwood, New Jersey.

In England, 28 miles south of London is the village of Tinsley Green. On Good Friday,the village hosts the annual World Marble Championship. The tradition began at Tinsley Green during the reign of Elizabeth I. For the hand of a maiden, two 16th century swains decided to settle the matter by playing a game of marbles. By the 1700’s, the game became an annual event at Tinsley Green. The game is played with 49 marbles placed in a ring. Each successful shot will merit the player another turn. The player who can knock out the most marbles wins.

It is no wonder with such a history, these precious orbs still hold their fascination with the young and old. When we have displayed a collection of marbles in a local library or museum, the child in everyone is awakened!

The contents of this page has been copyrighted 2000 By Chris Cooper

In 2008, the rights to this web site became the property of The Museum of American Glass in West Virginia.

Note: All rights to the contents of this page, including editing and updating, belong to the West Virginia Museum of American Glass, Ltd.,