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Biography: James Risk

James Risk

Dr. James Risk, a recipient of the 2019 Rakow Grant for Glass Research, intends to relate the story of the strike by the American Flint Glass Workers Union in 1904, which, he says, remains untold. “In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, American glass manufacturers transitioned from skilled artisan labor to machines,” he says. “The American Flint Glass Workers Union responded by going on strike in 1904. The strike lasted more than two years. By comparison, the more infamous Pullman Strike lasted two months. The Great Anthracite Coal Strike of 1902 lasted five months ... Examining the glassworkers’ strike provides a better understanding of the change in glass manufacturing techniques at the beginning of the 20th century and the impact of that change in this historically artisan craft.”

Risk recalls that this project grew out of research he conducted for his doctoral dissertation at the Rakow Research Library. “During that visit, I came across a scrapbook of newspaper clippings in the Macbeth-Evans Glass Company Collection documenting nearly every aspect of the ... strike in 1904. The union went on strike to protest wage cuts and the deskilling of artisan labor as a result of Macbeth-Evans ... and other glass manufacturers transitioning to machines. The two-year strike shattered the ... union and crippled the ... company.”

Risk notes that the glass industry’s response to the strike “is important to understanding glass manufacturing history, labor history, and the history of science and technology. My project will provide new insight into understanding how glass manufacturing and glassworkers differed from other industries and skilled laborers in the early 20th century ... Many industries transitioned to machines as a replacement for human labor ... Glassworkers were seemingly isolated from this transition. More than any other industry, glass manufacturing was a traditional craft that required highly skilled artisans. Replacing gaffers and glassblowers with machines therefore had a bigger impact on labor and manufacturing than replacing skilled labor in other industries.”

Risk earned his Ph.D. in the history of science and technology from the University of South Carolina in Columbia.