News and Tribune

New Albany Bicentennial

July 10, 2013

NEW ALBANY BICENTENNIAL: Plate glass manufacturing

Editor’s note: This is part of an ongoing series about the people and events that have shaped the 200-year history of New Albany. Read all installments by clicking on the bicentennial link under the “seasonal content” header at newsandtribune.com

 

In today’s world, dirty windows might be the only thing that brings attention to paned glass. Yet back in the late 1800s, the business of making plate glass brought some much deserved interest — and an economic boost — to the city of New Albany. And it all started with a man named John B. Ford. 

Back in the 1860s, Americans predominantly acquired their window glass from Europe. The importation costs made the product much more expensive. Seeing a market, businessmen in the United States began to experiment with making the glass at a cheaper price. Sounds easy right? As a country of go getters, America believed it could produce anything that any other nation manufactured and do it better. But making glass isn’t as clear as the product itself. 

Nowadays we look through our window and see glass as a construction material. In the past, creating glass was much more. It was, in fact, an art form. Craftsmen from Europe worked on special machines to construct the pieces. Each pane, while still in its liquid state, was smoothed by hand for the purest, most polished look. In the beginning, American glass artisans couldn’t seem to get the process down in a way that would turn a profit.

Entering the glass stage about this time was Danville, Ky.-native Ford. A man from modest beginnings, the Kentuckian ran away from a saddle making apprenticeship at the age of 14 and made his way north to Greenville. When he turned 20, he married a local girl who taught him to read and write. 

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