Through the Looking Glass: Reminders of “The Glass City”

. August 28, 2018.
Laminated safety windshield glass developed by Libbey-Owens-Ford 
became standard in automobiles by the 1930s. 
Photo Credit: Ward M. Canaday Center for Special 
Collections, The University of Toledo.
Laminated safety windshield glass developed by Libbey-Owens-Ford became standard in automobiles by the 1930s. Photo Credit: Ward M. Canaday Center for Special Collections, The University of Toledo.

Consider glass skyscrapers, mass-manufactured glass bottles, and space suits. These things have something in common: they are all innovations made possible by Toledo glass companies. Barbara Floyd, author of The Glass City: Toledo and the Industry That Built It (2015), recently retired as director of the University of Toledo’s Ward M. Canaday Center for Special Collections, where she spent 31 years studying documents telling the story of Toledo’s impact on the glass industry.

To mark the 200th anniversary of the founding of the company that became Libbey Glass, Floyd has put together a lecture series at the Libbey House to educate Toledoans about the city’s history and to raise money for the home’s preservation. The first of the six lectures in the series is on September 6.

Glass Innovations

“What I found in my research was that many things we accept as everyday items are Toledo glass company innovations,” Floyd said. Her lecture will focus on these innovations. “For example, the invention of fiberglass, which today is everywhere. That was a product developed by Owens-Illinois which spun off and became a company, Owens Corning Fiberglass.”

Floyd asks, “What would the world look like without glass skyscrapers?” The thermal-paned windows invented by Libbey-Owens-Ford made the construction technique possible. “When you drive around any major city today, and you see a skyscraper built in the 60s, 70s, or 80s – that is an innovation that came from Toledo.”

The proliferation of soft drink companies was made possible by the uniform production of glass bottles, an innovation that began in Toledo, Floyd said. It meant that the bottles could be mass produced and filled quickly.

“Glass jars used for everything from pickles to mayonnaise, are all things that came out of that automation,” Floyd said. “The Toledo company Owens-Corning made the fabric used for space suits. They allowed men to go to the moon. There are many things to be proud of, and I hope that people revisit those ties with the lectures.”

Uncovering Our Story

Floyd sees the lecture series as an opportunity for people to have a discussion about their city’s history and its significance today. It is meant to be reminiscent of a Victorian salon, where people like the Libbeys would gather to discuss the ideas of the day.

Now retired for six months, Floyd is ready to delve again into Toledo’s history. Besides being a board member of the Libbey House Foundation, she does consulting work for the city using historical records, and will be teaching a class at UT in the spring about Toledo history.. She said, “It’s not just learning history. It’s learning how to be a historian.”

Her life’s work has been “uncovering these stories,” according to Floyd. “Finding these stories hidden in our history is fun and, when you come across that one document that no one has understood the importance of before, it’s just an exhilarating experience. To be able to write a book or give a lecture about those documents is the greatest joy of my life.”

$10 per lecture or $50 for the full series
Libbey House, 2008 Scottwood Ave.
419-252-0722 | Libbeyhouse.com