New York's Capital Region in 50 Objects

New York's Capital Region in 50 Objects


Each region of the nation has its own distinctive history and identity. The New York’s Capital Region—consisting of Albany, Rensselaer, Schenectady, and Saratoga Counties—is no different. But what best identifies the region? What events, objects, people, and ideas have contributed to its character and uniqueness?

To learn the answers, we presented these questions to the numerous museums, historical organizations, libraries, and residents of the Capital Region. The fifty objects that were ultimately selected present an exciting history of the Capital Region, including well-known favorites but also unexpected surprises. Some of the fifty objects characterize very broad topics like the textile industry and the Hudson River School of art, while others embody large populations of people who shaped the character of the region, such as the Dutch and the Iroquois. Many objects represent specific people or events, such as writer William Kennedy and the Battle of Saratoga. In some instances, the objects represent themselves, like the GE Monitor Top refrigerator and Albany’s beloved Nipper statue. A complementary image accompanies each of the fifty objects, providing context and additional information.

Overall, the fifty objects clearly demonstrate that this narrowly circumscribed part of New York State has played an astonishing role in shaping the history of the nation and, in several instances, the world beyond the confines of our national borders.

Albany Billiard Balls

One man’s search for a better billiard ball paved the way for early plastics manufacturing, and Albany is where it began. In 1863 a young printer named John Wesley Hyatt responded to a challenge by New York billiard table manufacturers Phelan & Collender. The company offered $10,000 to anyone who could make a successful substitute for ivory billiard balls. Ivory had been the traditional material, but as it aged and dried the balls often cracked and became distorted in shape. Hyatt had earlier worked with a material called collodion, a solution of nitrocellulose dissolved in alcohol, which he discovered solidified into a hard material. When mixed with camphor, a compound called celluloid could be pressed in a mold to make billiard balls. Instead of taking the $10,000, Hyatt started his own company in 1868, the Hyatt Manufacturing Company, which not only made billiard balls but also dominoes, checkers, and even dentures.

In 1875, the Scottish immigrant Peter Kinnear took over the billiard ball manufacturing business and changed the name to Albany Billiard Ball Company. At the time, the factory was located on the southeast corner of Grand and Plain Streets in Albany (now under the South Mall Arterial). Kinnear and others encountered one major problem: celluloid tended to explode into flames. Fortunately, another early plastic developed by Hyatt, called bonsilate, was better suited for billiard balls. Made from finely ground bone and sodium silicate, bonsilate was sturdier than celluloid, held color better, and did not burst into flames. Kinnear quickly adopted the composition as the primary material for his billiard balls.

By the early twentieth century Albany Billiard Ball Company relocated from its downtown operation to a larger factory on the corner of Delaware Avenue and Whitehall Road. It remained in business until the 1980s.

Hyatt Billiard Balls

Albany Billiard Ball Company | c. 1940-60

Maker / Manufacturer: Albany Billiard Ball Company

Dimensions: 2 ¼” diam., Box 9 ¾” x 9 ¾” x 2 ½”

Credit: Gift of Mrs. Richard C. Rockwell

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