black and white photo of Robert Howell Sr. in white shirt lampworking at a table full of glass

Robert Howell, Sr., in the late 1930s.

Also known as: Robert Milton Howell, R. M. Howell

Born: September 4, 1877, Vienna, Illinois, United States

Died: May 16, 1957, Scotch Plains, New Jersey, United States

Nationality: American

Family: Howell

Glassworking relatives:

Active: [at least 1893-1957]

Associated acts:

Brief biography

Robert Howell was born in Vienna, Illinois, on September 4, 1877. He attended school through two years of college. There are several stories of how and why he became an itinerant glassworker, but all agree that he demonstrated at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, Illinois, in 1893. Several years later he met Ethel Maude Pauley while demonstrating at the Saint Louis Exposition,1 and they married in Waterloo, Iowa, in 1900. The two had four children together: Grace M. Howell, Robert M. Howell, Jr., Nona H. Deakin (née Howell), and Leigh B. Howell.

By 1904, and possibly earlier, Howell and his growing family were traveling around the country. During the demonstration season, they lived in a housecar with a lampworking setup. Howell led his own troupe, Howell’s Troupe of Glass Workers, in which he, his wife, and several other glassworkers participated. The Howell children each learned the art of lampworking, most starting between the ages of five and eight. When their parents deemed them ready, they joined the demonstrations. They toured as the Howell Family of Bohemian Glass Workers and made appearances at schools, clubs, churches, lodges, and other groups. During the off-season they settled down in a home (often rented) and made glass for sale.2

In 1939, the family made perhaps their most notable appearance at the New York World’s Fair, demonstrating at the Glass Blowers of the World pavilion. There, more than 44 million people had the chance to see their lampworking skills.

As their children grew up and left home, the elder Howells continued to demonstrate, often billed as Mr. and Mrs. Robert M. Howell. Howell died in his home in Scotch Plains, New Jersey, on May 16, 1957. He is buried in Hollywood Cemetery in Union, New Jersey.

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