A City Built of Glass

 Deming Jarves, co-founder of the New England Glass Company

            In 1608, the first glass factory in North America was established at Jamestown, Virginia.  While the factory failed and the colony quickly collapsed, by 1800 glass had become an important industry in the United States. 

            In 1818, Deming Jarves helped to found and manage a new glass company in East Cambridge, Massachusetts, called the New England Glass Company.  The company began with a workforce of 40 men, but by the end of the Civil War, the factory had become hugely successful and employed 500 workers.  It produced quality blown glass in brilliant colors, much of it finely cut andWilliam Libbey, father of Edward Drummond Libbey etched.  The glass blowers and cutters were highly skilled, and displays of New England Glass Company products were popular among visitors to the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. 

            But the depression of 1873 cut into the company's profitability.  After struggling, the Board of Directors decided to lease the factory in 1878 to William L. Libbey, a company manager.  Libbey brought his 24-year old son, Edward Drummond, into the business.  E. D. Libbey was classically educated at boarding schools, and wanted to become a minister.  But in 1883, when his father died, Libbey took over running his father's factory and soon faced a series of financial crises at the firm.  The most serious was in 1886 when the American Flint Glass Workers Union organized a strike at the company demanding higher wages at the same time soaring fuel costs were cutting into profits. 

            Edward Drummond LibbeySome 700 miles away, in Toledo, Ohio, city fathers were seeking to attract new businesses to the community that could exploit abundant natural gas supplies recently discovered in the region.  They offered Libbey an incentive package that included a site for a new factory, 50 lots for worker housing, and $100,000 to build the factory.  Libbey jumped at the opportunity to make his father's business profitable again, and in August 1888, a train carrying 250 glass workers from Massachusetts arrived in Toledo.  But the workers found life in their adopted city difficult, and many soon returned to New England. 

            Libbey traveled to the Hobbs & Brockunier glass factory in Wheeling, West Virginia, in an effort to find new skilled workers.  There he found Michael J. Owens, who had been working in the glass industry since age 10.  Libbey felt Owens displayed the leadership skills needed to manage his new factory and hired him.  Owens supervised the Toledo plant, and also a glass plant in Findlay that made light bulbs for the new electrical industry.

            But Libbey's company continued to struggle.  To be successful, the firm's new name, the Libbey Glass Company, would have to become nationally known.  Libbey sought $200,000 from the company to build a working glass furnace at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago, a gimmick he felt would introduce the nation to his company.  But his board of directors balked at the idea, and Libbey was forced to seek private loans for the venture.  Owens was put in charge of the Chicago exhibit.  When it initially failed to draw crowds, Libbey decided to allow visitors to apply their admission fee to the purchase of glass trinkets inscribed with the company name.  The exhibit became a huge draw, with many coming to see a dress sewn for Broadway actress Georgia Cayvan made of spun glass.  Spun glass, which would eventually become the basis for a major new glass company in Toledo in the late 1930s, was a brand new technology for the time pioneered by Libbey's company.

            The success of the Columbian Exposition exhibit finally made Libbey's company profitable.  Its brilliant cut glass was also featured at the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair, including a punch bowl described as the largest piece of cut glass in the world. 

            Libbey married Florence Scott, granddaughter of Jesup W. Scott, one of Toledo's founders.  A lover of art, Libbey's wife urged her husband to establish an art museum in the city.  In 1901, the Toledo Museum of Art was founded by the Libbeys.  Some 100 Toledoans pledged $10 each to be founding members. 

            In 1925, Edward Drummond Libbey died of pneumonia at the age of 71.  The bulk of his estate was left as an endowment to the art museum, and this gift continues to fund its operations today.  His company, the Libbey Glass Company, is the root for all of today's glass-related companies in Toledo.  His collaboration with Michael Owens would not only lead to the automatic bottle machine, but also new methods for producing flat glass.  Without Edward Drummond Libbey, Toledo today would be a far different place.


At the Ward M. Canaday Center for Special Collections


 Images and newspaper clipping, the New England Glass Company, 1818.  The Libbey-Owens-Ford Glass Co. Records, MSS-066 (hereafter noted as L-O-F).

            These items document the history of the predecessor to Libbey Glass.  Included are the first advertisement, which appeared in the Boston Commercial Gazette in 1818; a drawing of the company, which was located on the Charles River; a photograph of one of its etched glass decanters from the 1876 Centennial Exposition; and a replica of a decanter made from one of the company's original molds. 


Batch books, the New England Glass Company, ca. 1883-1889.   (On loan from the collections of the Toledo Museum of Art.)

            Glass companies carefully protected their glass recipes to maintain a competitive edge over others.  The batch book recorded how much of each raw ingredient was needed for a particular type and color of glass.  These batch books are from the New England Glass Company, and were written in the hand of Edward Drummond Libbey.  The book from 1883 notes the death of his father, William Libbey. 


Photographs, William and Edward Drummond Libbey, ca. 1878.  L-O-F, MSS-066.

            Photographs of William Libbey and his son, Edward Drummond Libbey, from around the time the elder Libbey took over the New England GlassLibbey Glass Works Company.


Photographs, Libbey Glass Company factory on Ash Street, ca. 1890.  L-O-F, MSS-066;

Owens-Illinois Glass Company Records, MSS-200 (hereafter noted as O-I).

            Libbey's new glass factory in Toledo was built on Ash Street on land provided free as part of the city's incentive package. 


The Libbey Exhibit at the 1893 Columbian Exposition in ChicagoPhotographs, Libbey Glass Co. display, World's Columbian Exposition, 1893.  L-O-F, MSS-066; and E. D. Libbey's Gate Pass, (On loan from the collections of the Toledo Museum of Art.The glass furnace at the Columbian Exposition)

            Libbey's gamble on the World's Columbian Exposition paid off.  The exhibit employed 300 workers, including Michael Owens, who supervised the plant.  The display included a working glass furnace, and visitors could watch glass blowing and cutting by Libbey workers. 


Photograph, spun glass dress, 1893.  L-O-F, MSS-066.

            One of the draws to the Libbey exhibit was a dress made of spun glass fibers woven into fabric.  It was custom made for Georgia Cayvan, a stage star who had visited the Libbey exhibit, became intrigued by lamp shades made out of spun glass, and requested a dress made of the fiber.  Libbey agreed to give Cayvan exclusive rights to wear glass cloth on stage.  Princess Eulalia of Spain saw Cayvan's dress and asked that one be made for her as well.  She was so pleased with the result that Libbey Glass was given the right to include the Spanish coat of arms on its advertising.   


Kate Field, The Drama of Glass.  Toledo, OH:  The Libbey Glass Co., 1893.

            Popular author Field, who visited the 1893 fair exhibit, was commissioned by E. D. Libbey to write a brief history of glass.   


Souvenir books, World's Columbian Exposition, 1893.  Various publishers.

            Many picture books were sold as souvenirs of the fair, and these two include the Libbey Glass exhibit.  Of particular interest is The Century World's Fair Book for Boys and Girls (New York:  The Century Co., 1893).  The book describes a visit by a group of young men to the Libbey exhibit.   


Glass souvenirs, World's Columbian Exposition, 1893.  O-I, MSS-200; and private collectors.

            Glass trinkets that could be purchased at the exhibit included a glass hatchet, paperweights, and spun glass items such as dolls and ties.  All bore the Libbey Company name. 


Libbey display at the 1904 World's Fair in St. LouisPhotographs, St. Louis World's Fair, 1904.  L-O-F, MSS-066; O-I, MSS-200; and Joseph M. Jackson Photograph Collection, MSS-182.

            With the success of the 1893 fair, Libbey also produced a display for the 1904 fair, although it did not include aGlass dresses at the 1904 World's Fair glass furnace or worker demonstrations.  The exhibit corresponded with the height of popularity for Libbey's brilliant cut glass.  Among the items displayed was a cut-glass punch bowl, declared to be the largest piece of cut glass ever produced. An article about the punch bowl appeared in Scientific American magazine that year.  In 1946, Owens-Illinois donated the punch bowl to the Toledo Museum of Art.  Among those who attended the ceremony marking the donation to the museum was the original glass cutter.   


Photograph, glass dresses at the St. Louis World's Fair, 1904.  O-I, MSS-200.

            The popularity of the glass dress at the 1893 fair led Libbey to produce many more for the display at the 1904 fair.   


Edward Drummond and Florence Scott LibbeyPhotograph, Edward Drummond Libbey and Florence Scott Libbey, ca. 1901.  L-O-F, MSS-066.

            Florence Scott Libbey was the granddaughter of Jesup W. Scott (founder of the University of Toledo) and daughter of Maurice Scott.  She was a great lover of art, and did much to educate her husband on the subject.  In 1901, at the encouragement of Florence and the Tile Club, a local art group, E. D. Libbey founded the Toledo Museum of Art.   


Deed, 13th and Madison property, 1902.  O-I, MSS-200.

            Libbey purchased this house downtown as the first home for the art museum.  The building was renovated to include gallery space, and also served as the home for the museum's first director, George Washington Stevens.   


Passport, Florence Scott Libbey, 1927-1928.  O-I, MSS-200.

            Libbey and his wife toured the world seeking art for the museum.  This passport provides evidence that Florence continued her travels to acquire items for the museum even after her husband's death. 


Photographs, the Toledo Museum of Art.  (On loan from the collections of the Toledo Museum of Art.)

            Avid art collecting by the Libbeys meant the Madison property quickly became too small for the collections.  In 1912, the Libbeys donated land owned by Florence's father on Monroe Street as the site for a new museum.  Toledoans eagerly raised $50,000 to support its construction.  The new museum opened on January 17, 1912.  In 1924, work started on a major expansion of the museum. 


Mementos of Libbey's death, 1925.  O-I, MSS-200; L-O-F, MSS-066.

            Unfortunately, Libbey did not live to see the expansion completed.  He died on November 13, 1925.  Many paid tribute to Libbey's legacy.   


Last Will and Testament of Edward Drummond Libbey, 1925.  O-I, MSS-200.

            Libbey's will left much of his estate as an endowment for the museum, including $2 million for a music hall.  Work began in 1926 on the Peristyle.  Other beneficiaries included his wife and friends, as the couple had no children.

Last Updated: 6/27/22