The Libbey Glass Company - Part 2

Virginia Scott
Glass Review - October 1978

In 1888, Edward Drummond Libbey moved the New England Glass Works, which was having serious financial difficulties, from East Cambridge, Mass., to Toledo, Ohio. One hundred New England glass workers accompanied the move.

The company's financial troubles did not end with the move to Toledo. Expenses were high and the new gas furnaces and equipment caused problems. Soon many workers became homesick and returned home making it necessary for Libbey to recruit workers from other glass centers. In 1889, Michael J. Owens was hired as Superintendent. Owens was one of the greatest inventors the glass industry has ever known. Under his management, the plant soon began to make a profit. In 1892, the name of the company was changed to "The Libbey Glass Company."

In 1901, Michael Owens invented the first automatic glassmaking machine, the Owens Bottle Machine. This was perhaps the most significant development in the history of glassmaking. The machine made possible the automatic mass-production of glass bottles of uniform quality at high speed. The vast new markets that opened up led to the formation of a separate company, The Owens Bottle Company. This company merged with the Illinois Glass Company in 1929 to form the Owens-Illinois Glass Company.

Other innovative glassmaking machines were soon invented at the Libbey plant and existing machines were refined. Many new techniques and processes were developed. Some of the most important ones were:

  1. The Westlake Machine for mechanical production of light bulbs, 1904
  2. Refinement of the Westlake Machine to produce fine quality glass tumblers at low cost, 1907
  3. Machine-made glass tubing (1917)
  4. "Safedge Glassware" with a beaded rim which prevents chipping, 1924
  5. World's first machine-made stemware, 1938
  6. Heat-Treated Glassware for hotels and restaurants, first tumblers then stemware (1961).

Through the years, glass tumblers for home, hotels and restaurants have been Libbey's basic business. When the Westlake machine was first used for blowing tumblers, there was a problem of removing the upper portion of excess glass (the "moil") which was left on as the glass came from the machine. It was necessary to cut off the excess with a diamond tool, then to hand-polish the rim. Finally, Libbey invented a machine method of burning off the "moil." This process produced a rolled, beaded rim which was very strong and tough. This glassware was patented and trade-named "Safedge"

At the end of this article is a copy of the double-page ad which appeared in the April 5, 1924, Saturday Evening Post. This ad announced "Safedge" glassware to the public as "A Sensational Accomplishment by America's Foremost Glass Manufacturer." The ad proclaimed "Safedge Glassware" as "The greatest development of our 106 years in the glass business" and explains that the"Safedge" rim "acts as a reinforcement" and that "the walls of the glasses are heat-treated, giving the glass a greater amount of resistance against breakage."

Later Libbey backed their "Safedge" rim with a famous guarantee which is still in effect -- "A new glass if the rim of a Libbey Safedge glass ever chips."

In 1935, Owens-Illinois Glass Company acquired Libbey's assets and organized it as a wholly-owned subsidiary. In 1943, Libbey became an operating Division of Owens-Illinois.

Safedge Advertisement 1924