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Business: Glass Week

12 minute read

Few U. S. industries are livelier, more ingenious than the glass industry. Two of its most important divisions are bottle glass and flat glass. The bottle division continually wars with the tin-can industry over the packaging of products. Glass-packed coffee marked a glass advance; canned beer was a victory for tin. The flat glass division, having no outside industry to contend with, has spent its time in the improvement of its product. Most important modern development has been safety glass for automobiles. Invisible glass, flexible glass, heat-proof glass and bullet-proof glass have been more spectacular but less substantial inventions. Glass news last week included:

Libbey-Owens-Ford Glass Co. of Toledo reported 1935 earnings of $8,167,000 compared to $3,161,000 in 1934. Like many another 1935 recovery, the improvement in Libbey-Owens-Ford Glass Co. depended largely on the 1935 boom in the motor industry. Libbey-Owens-Ford and Pittsburgh Plate Glass make some 90% of U. S. plate glass. They split this lion’s share about evenly, ‘but Libbey-Owens-Ford is the leader in safety glass production. Safety glass is made by sticking two ordinary sheets of glass together with a plastic binder. When struck, safety glass shatters like ordinary glass, but the binder holds the pieces in place, prevents flying fragments. Libbey-Owens-Ford sells so much safety glass for motor cars that it is almost an automobile accessory company. In 1931, it paid General Motors $10,000,000 for GM’s glassmaking subsidiary, since then has supplied practically all General Motors glass. It also supplies about 50% of the glass in Ford cars, but part of this business will be lost when Henry Ford’s own glass factory is completed sometime this year.

All motor car windshields are now made of safety glass and 21 states compel the use of safety glass in all passenger car windows. Libbey-Owens-Ford makes about 50% of U. S. window glass, but the window business has languished throughout Depression. Even in 1934, however, the company’s window trade increased 41% over 1933. Should a real building boom materialize in 1936, what was once Libbey-Owens-Ford’s only business will again become a major item.

Libbey-Owens-Ford (along with Pittsburgh Plate) also manufactures invisible glass. Invisible glass is not really invisible, but when properly set up in a show window it does produce the illusion of invisibility. If glass were a perfect transmitter of light, all glass would be invisible. But glass is not perfectly transparent. Some of the light rays which strike it are reflected back to the eye of the observer. Invisible glass is curved in such a way that the reflected light is sent upwards and downwards into black velvet pads which completely absorb it. Since no light gets back to the observer, the glass cannot be seen. The invisible glass system now in use was developed in England by E. Pollard & Co. Its U. S. patents are held by Invisible Glass Co. of America, of which Libbey-Owens-Ford and Pittsburgh Plate are licensees.

First U. S. installation of invisible glass was made last September at Marcus & Co., Manhattan jewelers. To startled passersby, it seemed that rich jewels and rare diamonds were theirs for the taking. Last week the illusion became something of a reality. Some miscreant, gazing at a jewelry-display behind the invisible pane, returned with hammer & chisel, chopped a hole in invisibility, walked off with three diamond rings worth $36,000. Police soon caught the culprit, recovered two of the three rings. Other invisible glass windows have been installed at the Chrysler Building showroom, Lord & Taylor’s, Brooks Bros, and Woodward & Lothrop (Washington). Installations are being made at Mandel Bros. (Chicago) and Jordan Marsh (Boston).

President of Libbey-Owens-Ford is John David Biggers, one of the old Owens Bottle Co. executives in the days before Owens became Owens-Illinois. After leaving Owens in 1926, he was managing director of Dodge Bros. (Britain) Ltd., for one year, later vice president of Graham Brothers Corp., still later of Graham-Paige International Corp. Then he got out of motors and back into glass, has been head of Libbey-Owens-Ford since 1930.

The other big flat glass company is Pittsburgh Plate Glass, which at one time had the makings of a plate glass trust. Established by John Ford and John Pitcairn in 1883, it was the first successful U. S. plate glass company, made all but a small fraction of the domestic plate glass output. When Mr. Ford and Mr. Pitcairn disagreed, the Fords got out and Edward Ford, son of Founder John, founded a company which later joined Messrs. Libbey and Owens* to form in Libbey-Owens-Ford an eternal rival to Pittsburgh Plate. Although largest flat glassmaker. Pittsburgh Plate also expanded into the paint business and now ranks second to Sherwin-Williams as a U. S. paintmaker. But glass has a better profit margin, and Pittsburgh has by no means lost interest in glass. It got into safety glass through E. I. du Pont de Nemours, which made the binder, and for a while went 50-50 with the du Fonts in safety glass manufacture. In 1930 Pittsburgh bought out the du Pont interest. So, like Libbey-Owens-Ford, Pittsburgh rode along with the motor boom and its 1935 earnings are estimated at about $8,250,000, as against $5,760,000 in 1934.

Pittsburgh’s specialties include Carrara structural glass—an opaque plate glass with a highly polished surface. It was originally made for use in countertops and tabletops, graduated into wainscotting for hallways and bathrooms, last year was used in store fronts. Pittsburgh also makes Herculite, a glass which will resist temperatures up to 650°. Most spectacular Pittsburgh stunt came last month when Sergeant Frank Shannon, champion marksman of the Newark, N. J. police force, fired a round of Thompson submachine gun bullets at Night-Club Singer Ella Logan. Though only 30 feet from the “Tommy-gun,” Miss Logan smiled, powdered her nose, survived. Between the singer and the Sergeant stood a sheet of Pittsburgh’s bullet-proof glass, which is the same as safety glass, only more so. Instead of two layers of glass with one binder, it has four layers of glass with three binders. Made in thicknesses up to two inches, it is designed for use in banks, payroll windows, armored cars.

President of Pittsburgh Plate since 1928 has been Harry S. Wherrett, a onetime office boy. A great Pittsburgh booster and member of the Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce, he is advertising his city and his company by putting the little known Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra on the radio in a Pittsburgh Plate Glass half hour. The program, scheduled to begin on Feb. 27, will be broadcast over a 40-station NBC hookup. An added civic note is supplied by the fact that the orchestra leader, Antonio Modarelli, is a native Pittsburgher.

The bottle or, as the bottle man always calls it, the container division of the glass business, is not so concentrated as the flat glass division, although a half dozen companies account for about 80% of the business. In 1935 the U. S. used some 5,300,000,000 bottles compared to about 10,000,000,000 cans. Biggest bottle company is Toledo’s Owens-Illinois which last autumn made itself even bigger by acquiring Libbey Glass Manufacturing Co., a tumbler-maker not to be confused with Libbey-Owens-Ford. Owens-Illinois makes some two-thirds of all U. S. beer bottles, is therefore the bottle company most annoyed at canned beer. But Owens-Illinois’ President William Edward Levis did not take canned beer lying down. Last week he announced the purchase of two tin can factories—Tin Decorating Co. of Baltimore and Enterprise Can Co. of McKees Rocks, Pa. Tin Decorating, a subsidiary of American Tobacco Co., manufactured tobacco cans. For it Owens-Illinois paid $3,320,000 cash. Enterprise Can made a general line of cans, not including beer cans. The two companies, and possibly others to be added, will be organized into Owens-Illinois Can Co. To run his new company, Mr. Levis picked an old can-maker, Frederick Adolph Prahl, who was born in Port of Spain, Trinidad, but was brought to New York at the age of 2. From 1907 to 1913 he worked for American Can Co., later moved to Continental Can where he became vice president in charge of manufacturing. It was announced that Owens-Illinois Can would not number beer cans among its products, that the can companies had been acquired merely to round out Owens-Illinois’ line of containers. As far as competition with American Can or with Continental Can was concerned, observers thought that a $6,000,000 investment was too much for a gesture and too little for a threat.

Owens-Illinois made $7,819,000 in 1935 as against $6,496,000 in 1934. This was the best profit in Owens-Illinois’ history and did not include earnings of the recently acquired Libbey Glass Manufacturing Co.

Owens-Illinois is also engaged in completing in Toledo the world’s first glass house—a two-story structure built of hollow glass blocks. Scheduled for completion by February, it will be used as an Owens-Illinois research laboratory. The building is made up of 80,000 glass blocks, has 39 rooms. Because of the building material, no windows are necessary, and in solving the problem of the windowless structure, Owens-Illinois claimed that it had taken a long step forward in making air-conditioning practical. The glass house also contains another important Owens-Illinois product: spun glass, or glass wool, woven into thick mats and used as insulator of heat and sound. It is likely to be a long time before many people live in glass houses, but glass insulation is a much more immediate rabbit in the Owens-Illinois’ hat.

While the big bottle company was going into the can business, the bottle industry was being attacked on another front. Last week Borden Co., big milk distributor, announced that milk sold to 200 stores of American Stores Co. in northern New Jersey would be packaged in Pure-Pak, a container made of spruce-fibre lined with paraffin. Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea stores were also said to be interested in Pure-Pak milk. Milk bottles cost between 4¢ and 5¢ but make 20 trips at an average cost of about ^ a trip. The paper con-tainer costs from 1¼¢ to 1½¢, makes only one trip. But it is much cheaper to deliver milk in paper than in glass. A 1½-ton truck (heat insulated and requiring no ice ) can deliver 2,000 quarts of milk weighing 4,000 lb. The same 2,000 quarts delivered in a non-insulated five-ton truck would include 4,000 lb. of milk, 4.000 lb. of glass, 2,500 lb. of wooden cases, 1,000 lb. of ice. The Metropolitan New York area consumes about 110,000,000 quarts of milk a month, of which less than 10% is delivered in paper packages. In the Philadelphia area, only other region in which milk is sold in quantity in paper, the paper percentage also is less than 10%. Spread of the paper container has been hampered by the fact that in some States retailers have been forced to charge 1¢ a quart more for packaged than for bottled milk.

Neither bottle maker nor flat-glass maker is Corning Glass Works of Corning, N. Y., famed as caster of the two 200-in., 20-ton telescope mirrors which are the world’s biggest pieces of glass (TIME, April 12, 1934). Corning is a closely-held, privately-owned company dominated by the Houghton family, glass makers since one Amory Houghton built a glass plant in Somerville, Mass, in 1851. Nominal head of the company is Alanson Bigelow Houghton, who was U. S. Ambassador to Germany (1922-25), later U. S. Ambassador to Great Britain (1925-29). At 72, the onetime Ambassador has turned over active direction to his son Amory Houghton, 36-year-old Harvard graduate who worked in the glassblowing department before becoming a company executive and who heads the Boy Scouts in the Corning district. The Corning Glass Works makes electric light bulbs, thermometers, rail-way-signals, laboratory equipment, art-glass, all manner of glass specialties. It developed Pyrex. a heat-resisting glass most familiar in the form of baking-dishes but also used in radio and other insulation.

Most recent Corning product is Top-of-Stove glass, developed by a team of Corning Ph. D.s under the captaincy of burly, wisecracking Research Director John Clyde Hostetter. They were looking for a glass which could be put on the top of the stove (not merely in the oven) and with which food could be served in the same dish in which it was prepared. Experimenting with 1,500 formulae, they cooked 18,000 lb. of potatoes and nearly as much hamburg, fed Coming’s stray dogs on the results of their experiments. They cooked on wood, oil and coal stoves, five types of gas ranges, twelve kinds of electric ranges. Sometimes they cooked until the food was burned dry, to see if the glass would stand the continued heat. Eventually they found a glass of which each centimetre expanded only .00000385 cm. per degree of temperature raised, and which continued to hold its heat-resisting properties even through many reheatings.

Advantages of Top-of-Stove glass: quicker cooking, better flavor, less dishwashing, lower fuel bills, no food lost in transmission from stove to table to refrigerator. Typical dishes prepared in Top-of-Stove ware: caramel dumplings, creamed potatoes, Yorkshire pudding, cream of tomato soup, chicken a la king.

*Michael Owens, backed by Edward Libbey, invented the automatic bottle-making machine, formed Owens Bottle Machine Co., now Owens-Illinois. Another inventor, one Irving Colburn, hadi invented an improved method of making glass sheets. Messrs. Libbey and Owens bought the Colburn patents, improved the process, went into the flat glass business. But they kept bottles & windows in two separate corporate packages and the only connection today between Libbey-Owens-Ford and Owens-Illinois is the name of the late, great Mike Owens.

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