Emblems of Wartime Shortages

Glass doorknobs date back to 1826, when the process for pressing molten glass into molds was invented, but they didn't become ubiquitous until after the United States entered World War I, in 1917. Cast brass, bronze, and iron doorknobs, which had dominated the hardware market since the beginning of the Victorian era in 1860, were in short supply because metals were needed for airplanes and ammunition. "But there was still plenty of sand out there to make glass with," says Kittel. And by 1920, the largest hardware makers, including Yale & Towne Manufacturing Co. of Connecticut and Barrows Lock Co. of Illinois, were mass-producing doorknobs of molded and machine-cut glass, and cut crystal to suit various house styles, wallet sizes, and tastes.

During that era, most glass knobs were clear and featured six, eight, or 12 facets. Their faces were flat so you could peer inside to see star, bullet, and pin-prick designs molded into their bases. Less common were colored-glass knobs in robin's egg and cobalt blues, emerald, amber, violet, white milk, and Vaseline glass (which got its yellow-green color from adding trace amounts of uranium to the mold.) Shapes also varied, from ovals with incised star patterns to crystal globes with tiny bubbles inside — a popular 1920s Art Deco style that works well with modern interiors today.

The use of glass knobs continued through the '40s, but by the '50s tastes in both architecture and hardware had changed, and Americans began favoring cleaner modern lines in metals. Before long, developers were outfitting doors in suburban ranch houses with utilitarian-looking steel orbs.

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