• Belgian Immigrants at the Pittsburgh Plate Glass Plant

    At the heart of the Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company (PPG) was a thriving community of Belgian immigrants. During World War I, masses of Belgian refugees came to the United States, as their home country was torn apart by warfare. Belgium was a historical hub for glassmaking, a trade many immigrants brought with them to America. Belgian glassmakers typically settled in rural areas rich with the necessary natural resources for glassmaking, setting up family-run production studios. These small-time glassmakers would move from town to town as limited materials for glassmaking began to dwindle. Mount Vernon, however, offered Belgian glassmakers a more settled lifestyle, as PPG provided steady work throughout the year. Immigrants quickly rose up through the ranks, their specialized knowledge of glassmaking techniques leading to the creation of several of PPG’s glassmaking patents.

  • Glass and Glass Making at Ariel-Foundation Park

    Glass is made from three simple ingredients: sand, soda ash, and limestone. If sand is heated to its melting point, its properties change and create glass. By adding soda ash, the melting point is slightly lower, which makes the process more cost-efficient. Finally, limestone is added to make the material more stable—without the addition of limestone, the glass material would dissolve in water. Glass is a particularly interesting material because it is difficult to classify as a solid, liquid, or gas. Molecularly, it is closer to a liquid but appears solid. For this reason, it is sometimes called a frozen liquid.   

  • Glass, Glaciers, and the Geography of the Midwest

    lipari obsidienne 28529Glass is formed naturally under a number of circumstances. Rapidly cooling magma can produce obsidian, a black glassy rock with a high silica content similar to man-made glass. Glass is also formed when lightning strikes sand or soil causing the silica to melt. Some meteorite impacts even apply enough shock pressure to force silica in the ground into a glass.

  • Glassmaking Innovations

    Glassmaking has a rich history that dates back to roughly 3500 BCE in Mesopotamia. Glassmaking is seen in many different cultures across the globe throughout time, and as you can imagine, we do not use the same process the ancient Mesopotamians used over 5,000 years ago. Innovations in the glassmaking process have been made all over the globe, from Egypt to Mount Vernon, Ohio. The process that changed glassmaking drastically was invented in 1925 here and was thus named the Pennvernon process.

  • Phillip Kempton

    PPG worker Phillip Kempton was born in nearby Mount Liberty, Ohio, and attended school in Centerburg before taking up glassmaking as an occupation. In 1961 Kempton joined his father and brother at Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company. Along with his brother, he produced clay for the tank kiln, repairing and maintaining it when necessary. Though the job was dangerous and the hours were long, Phillip enjoyed his job and felt a sense of pride and camaraderie with his co-workers. When the plant was shut down, Kempton and his co-workers had to seek other job opportunities.

  • Protective Clothing

    Apron.edited The protective clothing worn by glass workers was designed to protect the body from burns, punctures, and cuts. The glass workers at the PPG plant in Mount Vernon wore denim safety sleeves that protected from heat and were reinforced with grommets, to provide ventilation and prevent glass puncture. The sleeves were held in place by alligator clips on the chest that attached both sides of the sleeves together.

  • Repurposed Materials

    The ruins are just a part of the leftover materials that comprise Ariel-Foundation Park. The park itself is a restoration project, playing into the artistic ideal of taking the old and making it something new. This has been done through sculpting pieces of leftover buildings, recycling old waste from the glassmaking industry, and putting it all together in an engaging and interactive space.

  • The Coxey Building Ruins

    The Coxey Building Ruins, one of the centerpieces of Ariel-Foundation Park, were originally built to be a steel-casting plant. The building’s namesake, Jacob Coxey, made waves when he built the huge factory complex in the early 1900s, but it never became the booming steel plant he envisioned. Instead, after Coxey’s brief and failed attempt at steel casting, the building became the home of the Mount Vernon branch of the Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company. At its peak, the PPG factory was one of the area’s major employers, with entire families, including many Belgian immigrants, working to shape and cut glass together.

    Proximity to readily available natural gas and fine sand made the factory the perfect place for glassmaking, and it was here that a new process of glassmaking, called the Pennvernon process, was invented. This process, in which glassmakers pulled ribbons of molten glass through rollers up to three stories high, dominated glassmaking globally from its invention in 1925 until the 1970s. In the 1950s, a new and more efficient process of glassmaking, called “Float Glass,” was invented and eventually replaced the Pennvernon process as the dominant way of making glass. Unable to adapt to this new glassmaking process, the factory was forced to close in 1976. What remains of the 89,250-square foot building today are a few crumbling walls and three elevator shafts, but the legacy of the industry it represents is alive and well in Ariel-Foundation Park.

  • Why Mount Vernon?

    Although the park and its history as a glassmaking factory is significant, we have to wonder why its founders believed Mount Vernon to be uniquely important. In 1868, Peter Neff supervised the drilling of many natural gas wells near the county line of Coshocton and Knox, where the Kokosing and Mohican Rivers converge.  Gas companies soon flocked to the area, hoping to develop this abundance of natural gas. Emitting less carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than traditional fuels such as coal and wood, natural gas served also as a cheap and consistent fuel for many activities, including the energy-intensive manufacture of glass. In addition to this plentiful resource, Knox County hosted an abundance of silica sand, an important component in glassmaking. Different from river sand found near the Kokosing, silica sand is harvested from local sandstone and contains fewer impurities, creating fewer defects in the glassmaking process.

  • Working Conditions

    You would have needed great connections to work in a glass factory in the early 20th century. Often and sometimes only through family ties, could you get a job in such a place.

    Glassworkers were paid well for the time, with men receiving 18 cents/hour, and women receiving 11 (CMoG). Women were usually utilized as detail/defect inspectors of finished pieces, while men actually worked on the floor. Though there is an obvious wage gap, in this context, the work was not “equal work.”The most common age range for younger workers was 14–17 (CMoG). Young boys were often needed, even though the legislation was in place to prevent them from working. These children were sometimes taken from orphanages and exploited as sources of income for their families or for cheap work. (utoledo)