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M. F. Christensen and Son


(approx. 1903 – 1917)



In 1899 Martin Frederick Christensen, a successful businessman and inventor, patented a machine which made steel ball bearings -- automatically, relatively inexpensively, and most important of all, reliably round. 


Martin’s idea was simple yet brilliant, and affordable ball bearings would be a boon to industry.  Investors from New York purchased 80% of his patent for the healthy sum of $25,000.


He had recently sold his drop forge business and when he sold his steel ball machine in 1900, his family’s fortune was fairly well assured.  However Martin was not a man to be idle.  He turned his insight into spheres to the task of making glass balls of the sort used in furniture casters, in pump valves and by lithographers, and those used by small boys knuckling down in the schoolyard.


Martin’s specialty was iron so he needed tutoring to work with glass.  He consulted with one of the best – James Harvey Leighton.  Mr. Leighton sold him certain glass formulas, including the one used to make American Cornelians, more commonly known today as bricks.  It was this formula which would eventually be used to make Akro’s oxblood as well thanks to a deception by one of Martin’s trusted employees. 


By 1903 Martin had 9 machines and could make 4,800 marbles a day.  His business partner was his son Charles.  Martin hired expert glass workers and good wages, and oftentimes employed other members of their families in various capacities.  Quality control was exceptional.  Factory conditions were as wholesome as possible for jobs with such inherent risks.  This was in sharp contrast to other businesses of the day.   Workers would generally have the hottest month of the year for vacation and Martin would use this time to make improvements.  The facilities were state of the art and the company growth was robust. 


With clever advertising and marble names such as National Onyx, American Cornelian, Persian Turquoise and Imperial Jade, the Christensens were able to break the German stronghold over a toy market in which the best marbles were considered to be those made of real stones.  MFC came to dominate the American market and even shipped their marbles abroad.  Girls were not left out; the turquoise and jade may have been made with them in mind.


In 1913, the Christensens learned that Horace Hill, the son of family friends, had embezzled funds.  He had been hired as their bookkeeper in 1908 and had risen to become an officer and shareholder in the company.   He began falsifying the books in 1912 and effectively hid the evidence of his misdeeds until one of the company’s clients wrote to ask about a transaction of which Charles could find no record.   This was a terrible blow but apparently Horace appeared convincingly contrite and Martin actually let him continue working after making restitution.  This was a mistake.  Hill quickly resumed his criminal activity and again hid his crimes so well that they were not discovered until after he left the company in 1914 to go to work for Akro Agate.  He took with him the Christensens’ glass formulas, machine designs and customer list.  Until this time Akro had been jobbering MFC marbles in Akron.  Now, with Martin’s machine designs altered just enough for Hill to secure his own patent, Akro began manufacturing marbles in Clarksville, WV and became real competition for MFC.  It was a challenging time but with wise management and continued innovation MFC continued to dominate the toy marble market. 


Martin Christensen passed away on October 10, 1915, of natural causes.  Charles continued at the helm producing marbles steadily.  1916 was a very good year and 1917 promised to be as well.  Then the U.S. entered the war.  Natural gas was diverted to wartime needs.  An especially cold winter made things even worse.  Gas was simply not available.  The furnaces were turned off on December 10, 1917.   Charles gave each employee a two dollar gold piece.  A few were able to stay on because there was still enough stock on hand to keep the company filling domestic orders for a year-and-a-half.  Their last order of toy marbles went to Akro Agate at the end of 1918.   They continued filling industrial marble orders until June of 1919. 


Charles could have reopened the business after the war but that would probably have entailed moving to a place with better access to sand and gas.  He opted to retire and stay near his mother and the family home.


Charles died on Christmas day in 1922. 


M. F. Christensen & Son’s marbles live on as some of the most attractive and most collectible ever made.  Their hand-gathered design gives them special appeal.






More information:


American Machine-Made Marbles, 2006, Dean Six, Susie Metzler and Michael Johnson


Collecting Antique Marbles:  Identification and Price Guide, 4th ed., Paul Baumann


M.F. Christensen and the Perfect Glass Ball Machine, 1990, Michael C. Cohill


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