Jacob Coxey

  • Jacob Coxey

    Jacob Coxey, Sr., was born on April 16, 1854, in Pennsylvania and moved to Ohio in 1881. He lived through the Panic of 1893, which at its height, caused unemployment rates of nearly 19%. Dissatisfied with the government’s response to the panic, Coxey called together “Coxey’s Army” in 1894. The “army” consisted originally of about 100 unemployed Ohio workmen who marched on Washington. Coxey was certain that 100,000 men would join them by the time they reached Washington, D.C., but after walking 35 days across the country, they only amassed about 500 men. Regardless, the event was the first major protest march on Washington and set a precedent for future marches.

  • Ohio Industry at the Turn of the Century

    The Coxey Building ruins remain as a testament to an age of industry and innovation in Mount Vernon. When Jacob Coxey opened the building as a steel plant around 1900, he founded it on a network of railroads, pipelines, and commerce in Ohio. Natural resources abounded. Knox County’s industrial boom began when the Ohio Fuel Supply Company drilled a natural gas well that produced 7,000,000 cubic feet of gas every day. The company piped the gas through the Columbia Gas Transmission Company, making Mount Vernon a significant supplier to cities like Wilmington, Virginia, and Charleston, West Virginia.

  • The Coxey Building and Glassmaking in Mount Vernon

    When Jacob Coxey came to Ohio to build a steel casting plant, he “hit Mount Vernon with the effect of a small bomb,” according to the Mount Vernon News. Made with steel trusses shipped from the Chicago World's Fair of 1893 on circus cars, the Coxey Building measured an immense 175 ft. by 510 ft. Great enthusiasm erupted from the business community at the time, with improved value of real estate beckoning. Unfortunately, obstacles to progress and profit quickly surfaced. Construction was often halted due to digging and hitting water. For structural reasons, the building was covered in brick, with the innovative use of cement as mortar. However, once running, the steel plant consistently produced sub-quality steel. The Coxey steel plant failed and brought businesses down with it in 1902.

    Due to its proximity to natural gas reserves and sand quarries, Leopold Mambourg and James A. Chambers transformed the building into a glass factory. Though its construction cost $300,000, the Coxey Building was sold for $60,717 and renamed Mambourg Window Glass Company. Raising the standard for glass production, the company eventually invented the Pennvernon process, named after its ties to the Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company and creation in Mount Vernon. In 1906, Chambers took ownership of the company and renamed it Chambers Window Glass Company, only to have PPG take over two years later. After almost 70 years of creating state-of-the-art glass, the company closed in 1976.

    “Panic of 1893” at Ohio History Central: http://www.ohiohistorycentral.org/w/Panic_of_1893

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    Photo: The Coxey Building once housed a glass manufacturing plant, one of Mount Vernon’s largest employers in the early twentieth century. Courtesy Kenyon College.

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    Photo: The Coxey Building ruins in Ariel-Foundation Park today.
    Courtesy Ariel-Foundation Park.
  • 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.