Biographical / Historical
In 1851 Amory Houghton, an enterprising merchant from Massachusetts, decided to become involved in the glassmaking industry. After a decade of directing several different companies, Houghton and his son, Amory Houghton Jr., purchased the Brooklyn Flint Glass Works in Brooklyn, New York in 1864. Both men served as directors and officers at the company. Financial difficulties, though, as well as a fire in the factory forced the Houghtons to take extreme measures in order to save the company. In May of 1868, the board of Brooklyn Flint Glass agreed to move its entire business to Corning, New York after a local banker, Elias Hungerford, convinced the Houghtons that the town could be transformed into a center of glassmaking. Just five months after the move, the Corning Flint Glass Works opened its new factory. The initial products included goblets, globes, jars, fruit dishes, lamp chimneys, and glass blanks for cutters and engravers. In 1875, the company was incorporated as the Corning Glass Works.
After operating successfully for several years, Amory Houghton, Jr., the company’s president, decided to focus on a few specialty products. These included colored glass for railroad signal lenses, blown glass for lamp globes and chimneys, glass tubing for scientific and industrial uses, and glass blanks for cut crystal glassware. The high quality of the company’s crystal glass blanks stimulated the development of a local industry dedicated to glass cutting and engraving. By the turn of the century, cut glass firms such as J. Hoare & Co. and H. P. Sinclaire & Co. enabled the town of Corning to promote itself as “the Crystal City.”
In the early 20th century Amory Houghton Jr.’s sons, Alanson and Arthur, began to institute significant changes at Corning Glass Works. In 1908 they established a research and development laboratory dedicated to the study of scientific glass and hired Dr. Eugene Sullivan to lead and organize the new department. Dr. Sullivan, who earned his PhD at the University in Leipzig in Germany, hired physicists, chemists, and optical scientists to collaborate in the newly formed research facility. Due to the innovations of Dr. Sullivan and his staff, Corning Glass Works was able to expand its light bulb making business, manufacture more laboratory glassware, and begin making optical glass. In 1913 the Research & Development team made a breakthrough in the production of temperature-resistant borosilicate glass. Marketed as Pyrex, this highly durable cookware and laboratory glass was one of Corning Glass Works’ most successful products.
Throughout the twentieth century, Corning Glass Works continued to gain a worldwide reputation for its innovation. In 1935, Dr. George McCauley, a Corning physicist, designed and produced a 200” mirror blank, regarded as the world’s largest piece of glass at the time, for the Hale Telescope at Mount Palomar. Corning also mass produced TV picture tubes, a contribution allowing millions of people to afford televisions. In 1994, Corning received the National Medal of Technology for life-changing and life-enhancing inventions.
The company is now known as Corning Incorporated, and produces advanced optics products, science equipment such as microplates and petri dishes, optical cables, environmental filters, pharmaceutical tubing, and much more. Corning Incorporated has research centers distributed throughout North America, Europe, and Asia. The Corning Glass Works tower that once produced thermometer tubes, fondly known as Little Joe, still stands over the town of Corning today.
Dyer, D. (2001). Corning: A story of discovery and reinvention. Corning, NY: Corning Incorporated.
Vogt, D. L. (1980). Special relationship: An anecdotal history of Corning Glass Works and Corning, New York. Corning, NY: Corning Glass Works, Corporate Archives.