Owens left here, achieved fame in glass field

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is another article on Findlay area history adapted from a series written from 1959 to 1974 by the late R.L. Heminger, publisher and editor of The Courier.

 

When Michael J. Owens came to Findlay in 1891 to become factory manager of a glass manufacturing concern owned by the Libbey interests in Toledo, he was only 32 years old. He had been born in Virginia in 1859. He was to become a notable figure in the glass field before he died in 1923 at the age of 64.

The recent action giving his name to the former Penta State Technical College on the outskirts of Toledo has brought his life and accomplishments into new focus and provided new honor for his memory.

Owens had many friends in Findlay and after he went to Toledo in mid-1892, he often returned here to visit them and observe Findlay’s progress.

A warm friend locally was the late Charles W. Patterson of the Patterson department store. He usually visited Mr. Patterson on his Findlay trips. Mr. Patterson once told the writer that at Mr. Owens’ suggestion, he invested some funds in one of the Toledo glass firms and retained the investments until his death in the 1940s. They proved good investments, according to Mr. Patterson.

The Westinghouse Co., in its elaborate 1971 calendar, pictured and described some of the country’s figures who had been behind the technology of today’s world. The Owens story is one that was told therein.

“The man who was to change the status of glass from an art material to a commercial commodity was Mike Owens,” says the Westinghouse account, which went on to recall that he started as a 10-year-old lad as a worker in a Virginia glass factory.

Young Owens advanced in five years to become a journeyman glass blower. In 1888, he joined the New England Glass Co., which moved from the East to Toledo. It was a Libbey concern at that time.

The young glass worker had an objective of improving glass production by mechanizing the glass-blowing process.

“This was a revolutionary idea,” says the Westinghouse account, “that was totally foreign to the thinking of the glass industry and one man who was willing to entertain the idea of change was Edward Drummond Libbey, the owner of the New England concern. Mr. Libbey saw the soundness of Owens’ ideas and let him go ahead, encouraging him when he ran into difficulties.”

One of Owens’ early designs was for a light bulb-blowing machine with a compressor that fed air through a number of arms. The Libbey firm in Findlay, which Owens came here to manage in 1891, was making light bulbs and he pursued his inventive genius while working in Findlay.

In 1892, when the New England company became the Libbey Glass Co., Owens perfected two new machines, one for making glass tumblers and another for producing lamp chimneys.

Owens turned his attention to developing a glass bottle-making machine. He proved successful. His machine could produce 3,840 bottles in eight hours’ time, or eight per minute, as compared with one man, using the old methods, could turn out only 200 bottles in eight hours’ time. He later improved his machine so that it could produce 24 bottles a minute.

Window glass became his next field and he made important contributions in this area. He was able to perfect operations so that sheet glass joined bottles and other glass containers as an item of mass production and glassware ceased to be an exclusive luxury, according to the Westinghouse account.

In another development, Owens’ glass containers helped revolutionize the American diet, as the canning process was developed by others on a broad scale.

“Thanks to Mike Owens and his contemporaries,” concludes the Westinghouse account, “they made glass a commodity rather than a luxury and glass is now an important part of our environment.”

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