PADEN CITY, W.Va. — Able to produce upwards of a million marbles a day, Marble King has been a staple of industry in northern West Virginia since it was formed in 1949, and it remains the only domestic marble manufacturer in the nation.
According to president and CEO Beri Fox, with 28 full-time employees, it meets the needs of a broad range of client bases—from the toy and game industry to more industrial applications, such as in aerosol cans and air- and water-purification systems.
“We supply marbles for toys and games, we supply the marbles for the National Marbles Tournament, and we also do a lot of industrial applications,” she says.
Produced in various sizes, Marble King’s marbles can be found in decorative vases, lighting fixtures, and architectural designs and projects across the U.S., including children’s hospitals. “We do a lot of architectural work and design,” Fox says.
From aquariums to bird baths and outdoor firepits, its marbles also have applications in nature.
“If you want to put some marbles in your watering stand outside for the birds or something like that, a bee will be able to land on a marble and take a drink,” she says. “They’re used in nature; they’re used 100 million ways. It’s just letting creativity be our guide.”
On the retail side, Marble King has supplied marbles for more than 50 Altar’d State clothing stores nationwide, including one in Charleston before it closed.
“For the Altar’d State stores, the panels behind their checkout stand are built with marbles,” Fox says. “They’re backlit, and if you touch one of them, the marbles roll up and down. They’re between two pieces of steel that allow them to do that, but they’re free floating.”
Once featured on a Made in America TV show, Marble King is the only marble manufacturer in West Virginia. Over the years, there have been five premier marble makers in the country, four in the Mountain State.
Access to abundant raw materials, such as sand and natural gas, which was relatively inexpensive in the 20th century, made West Virginia ideal for marble manufacturing, Fox says. The prevalence of other glass manufacturers in the state also contributed to Marble King's success.
“Whatever deliveries we had coming to us were readily available because of the huge amount of glass manufacturers in West Virginia alone,” Fox says.
“You could go to any refractory supplier and have your materials in a day or two or a week. Today, we’re waiting anywhere from 26 to 52 weeks,” she says. “We have to order that part in advance because it’s considered now all specialty items as opposed to standard stock, as the facilities have either moved or offshored.”
At one point, West Virginia glass employed more people than any other industry in the state, including coal, according to Fox. “It’s a huge part of West Virginia’s history,” she says. “We out-employed coal. That’s when the coal mines were really operating, too.”
Today, Marble King sources most of its materials from recycled glass, including scrap glass from Milton’s Blenko Glass Company and Paden City’s Paul Wissmach Glass Company.
“The majority of our composition of glass is recycled glass,” Fox says. “It’s glass that would otherwise go into a landfill, so we’ve taken a waste stream for them that becomes a product source for us. It’s our raw material product source.”
The company also uses post-consumer glass, such as used beer bottles supplied by local breweries and bars. Marble King provides containers for these businesses to dispose of the glass safely and take them to the factory. The recycled glass is put into a giant melting furnace, which can melt three to six tons daily.
“The majority of our supplies do come from West Virginia, are sourced here locally; not only are they sourced here, but they’re also protecting the environment here, because otherwise this would go into a landfill, and typically glass is 100% recyclable,” Fox says.
Many Marble King marbles have become highly collectible over the years because of their uniqueness and durability compared to imports. Fox says some of the most iconic, collectible, and identifiable designs include cat’s eyes and swirls. Certain pieces produced in the twentieth century are now worth thousands of dollars apiece.
“Marble King marbles, you can pick them out,” Fox says. “You can take a Marble King marble in your hand and throw it down on concrete; it’ll bounce back up, and you catch it in your hands, even though it’s glass. You can't do that with the ones that are imported. They’ll bounce maybe a tiny bit and run off or totally shatter.”
Formed in 1949 by two seasoned professionals in the industry, Berry Pink and Sellers Peltier, the original factory opened in the town of St. Marys before being located at its current location along the Ohio River at Paden City.
For Fox, working at Marble King is a family affair, as her father purchased the company in 1983 after beginning his career there and working his way up. She says she enjoys being in this business because it allows her to be creative and scientific.
“You’re dealing one time maybe with a group of engineers trying to formulate a certain type of glass, which is all chemistry and analytical, and then you’re playing with kids when they tour the gifts shop,” she says. “It allows such a difference day to day. I love all the aspects of what I do.”
“No matter where I go or what I do, everybody has a marbles story, and they always love to share it, and I like to hear it,” Fox says.
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