There are a few questions that people always seem to have about Toledo. What is a Mud Hen? Are Tony Packo’s hot dogs really that good? Why are there frog statues sporadically placed around Downtown?
However, the most frequently asked question is about Toledo’s nickname: Why is Toledo called “The Glass City?” To unpack the answer, it is necessary to go back to the late 19th century when the manufacturing industry was on the rise, railroad expansion was making goods accessible nationwide and Toledo’s place on the Maumee River allowed the city to support significant commercial steamship traffic. With other manufacturers finding success in the region, Toledo became a prime spot for new and established companies to put down roots. And when a small New England glass company relocated to Toledo and found success, it and several other future glass companies laid the foundation for Toledo to become “The Glass City.”
One of the key players in creating the glass dynasty in Toledo was Edward Drummond Libbey. Libbey moved his family’s company, New England Glass, to Toledo in 1888 and in 1892, the company changed its name to The Libbey Glass Company. With this move, Libbey helped set the foundation for all other glass companies (Owens-Illinois, Owens-Corning, and Libbey-Owens-Ford) in the area. Moreover, each of these companies was innovative in their products (glass bottles, Fiberglas, and flat glass) and with this innovation, their place in Toledo glass history was solidified. The work of Edward Libbey and these glass companies set in motion Toledo’s manufacturing industry and helped propel Toledo into the 20th century.
In addition to his manufacturing legacy, Libbey founded the Toledo Museum of Art in 1901. In 2006, TMA constructed the Glass Pavilion, a 74,000 square foot postmodern space that houses the museum’s glass collection that Edward Libbey started. The Glass Pavilion also offers daily glass blowing demonstrations. The Toledo Museum of Art continues to be one of the gems of the city, with the Glass Pavilion being a testament to Toledo’s history and love of glass.
Edward Libbey also played a role in another important Toledo glass company. Michael J. Owens began working for Libbey when Owens was 29 and it did not take long before he was running one of Libbey’s plants. It was during this time that Owens began looking for a more efficient way to produce glass bottles. In 1903, Owens, with the support of Libbey, formed the Owens Bottle Machine Company in Toledo. In 1904, he patented his glass bottle manufacturing machine, an invention that revolutionized the glass industry for its producers, its workers and the companies buying the products. The company grew quickly, acquiring the Illinois Glass Company in 1929, becoming the Owens-Illinois Glass Company. And in 1937, Owen-Illinois had its headquarters in downtown Toledo in the first skyscraper entirely covered in glass. Today, the company is simply known as O-I, and while its global headquarters are no longer in the city of Toledo, the company continues to influence the Northwest Ohio region.
One final company that has helped make Toledo “The Glass City” is Owens-Corning. Owens-Corning was a joint venture of Owens-Illinois and Corning Glass Works, becoming a separate company in 1938. At this time, it gained the patent for glass fiber and Fiberglas was born. Owens-Corning headquarters are still located in Downtown Toledo, with the company developing and producing insulation, roofing, and fiberglass composites.