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Fortune, June 1936, p. 36

From the "Off the Record" section


LIKE the locomotive business (FORTUNE, October, 1935) and the orchid business (FORTUNE, December, 1935), the marble business hasn't been itself since 1930. Annual sales once averaging $750,000 have been running at about $450,000 and the horizon is still overcast. Price structure, once fairly steady at six for a nickel (glass immies, not cheap clay crockies), has tottered and has fallen to twenty-five for a nickel. Despite this, the U.S. still holds its position as the dominant marble-making nation. It turns out 25,000,000 a year and exports 75,000,000 of them. Best markets are Argentina, Mexico, Australia, and Denmark.

Marble dominance came to the U.S. as the result of the ingenuity of a Mr. Christiansen of Akron, Ohio, who, twenty or more years ago, invented a machine that turned out perfect spheres of sturdy glass. When Mr. Christiansen died in 1920, having profited little by his invention, the Akro Marble Co. of Clarksburg, West Virginia, took over his patents, added improvements suggested by an old pill-rolling machine, and began manufacturing marbles in quantity. Today Akro and Master Marble Co., also of Clarksburg, West Virginia, make 75 per cent of U.S. marbles. West Virginia is the center of production because it has deposits of fine silica sand close to a belt of natural gas: sand is the main ingredient of marble glass, gas for oven heat the most expensive item. Like glass for stained-glass windows and water tumblers, marble glass has a soft lime base, which makes an immie so resilient that it will bounce from the hardest pavement without breaking.

MARBLE makers keep trying to build up new markets. Master Marble recently brought out a mechanical marble shooter, which consists of a tin tube with a spring in one end, for inexpert players. Not more than a third of the U.S. marble players play the proper knuckles-down game that tournament play demands (a National Marble Tourney is held every year in Ocean City, New Jersey). But American youth considers the mechanical shooter a sissy device. Premiums are one marble hope, Master Marble having contracted to sell half a million premium boxes of marbles to the Popsicle Co. this year. Pin games have proved a pretty good market, absorbing a few million marbles. Adults are fine customers as United Cigar Stores discovered a couple of years ago. It stood boxes of marbles innocently on its counters and lured many a smoker into buying some -- for his or anybody else's children. There isn't much chance of creating demand by styling, the industry having long ago learned that the most popular marble color is a red and yellow mixture. Least popular is plain red or plain yellow.

Sport isn't the only thing in a marble's life. One out of every seven U.S. marbles has a serious use in American industry. Biggest industrial users are lithographers, who shake marbles by the thousands around on zinc plates to get an evenly distributed coat of sand and emery on the surface and prepare it for acid baths. Next biggest industrial use is highway reflector warning signs. Strangest use is in fish farms, where thousands of marbles are put on the bottom of tanks and pools to simulate the gravel in which fish like to spawn. Marbles can easily be cleaned and used over and over again, gravel can't.

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... and of course in case anyone is reading this without knowing the history of M.F. Christensen and Akro, it was interesting how different that was from the history as we know it today.

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Thanks. :)

... I'm also interested in this part, "Like glass for stained-glass windows and water tumblers, marble glass has a soft lime base, which makes an immie so resilient that it will bounce from the hardest pavement without breaking."

Is that hype? Were marbles stronger back then than they are now?

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Cool. We haven't had much 'other uses for marbles' talk recently.

Didn't know about the 1 in 7 figure. Or the red and yellow theory.

And especially the fish farms! ( :


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