News and Tribune

Floyd County

July 10, 2013

NEW ALBANY BICENTENNIAL: Plate glass manufacturing


Eventually Ford would accumulate enough wealth to move down river to good ol’ New Albany, a place that he viewed as an entrepreneur’s Eden. Here he went into shipbuilding and iron works, and then founded John B. Ford & Co. Glass Works in 1865.

As John E. Kleber stated in “The Encyclopedia of Louisville,” Ford was a heck of a scientist but not much of a business man. Within a year, the company belonged to his debtors. As a final nail in the coffin to the venture, the buildings burned down in 1866. 

Undeterred, Ford reentered the glass making business in 1867 with New Albany Glass Works. Learning from other factories, the entrepreneur brought over talented craftsmen from Europe to manufacture the glass. He also purchased the best glass making machines from the old country. While the company made predominantly window glass and mirrors, bottles and other glass objects were also produced. 

After all the research and hard work, Ford’s product began to rival his European counterparts. According to Kleber, Ford received awards for his work and was even bestowed an honorable mention from the French Academy of Science. And, with the town as host to his complex, New Albany received a special distinction. 

“The very first plate glass was hung there in the Hieb Building in 1870,” said Floyd County Historian David Barksdale. “Those pieces of glass stayed there into right before the 1937 flood. I think they were given to some family members. It was a tremendous industry we had here in New Albany, and again another first for New Albany. We were on the cutting edge numerous times back then during that time period.” 

While the glass might have been exquisite, Ford’s business still wasn’t making a profit. To make matters worse, his own step-cousin, Washington C. DePauw, opened a glass manufacturing plant in New Albany called Star Glass Works. Ford might have had the brains, but DePauw had the money. In 1872, DePauw, the richest man in Indiana, acquired Ford’s company. At the age of 61, Ford left New Albany relatively broke, being forced out of the business he had founded. Once DePauw took over the money portion of the glass works industry here, things started to change. The name of the business was no exception, with the millionaire exchanging Star Glass Works for DePauw’s American Plate Glass Works in 1861. 

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