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:

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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.

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.

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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.

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Leah Dunbar, Teahelahn Keithrafferty, Samantha Manno, and Cameron Messinides, all students at Kenyon College in 2017, participated in the Coxey Building portion of the Learning Trails project. Professor of American Studies Peter Rutkoff served as project advisor.