200 Years of Glass

. January 14, 2020.
The cover of 200 Years of Glass by author Robert Zollweg, who worked for Libbey Glass for 48 years, beginning in 1970. Photo courtesy: Robert Zollweg.
The cover of 200 Years of Glass by author Robert Zollweg, who worked for Libbey Glass for 48 years, beginning in 1970. Photo courtesy: Robert Zollweg.

New book chronicles the history and legacy of Libbey

On February 16, 1818, the New England Glass Company was founded in Cambridge, Massachusetts. 70 years later, after a change in ownership, Edward Drummond Libbey moved the company— soon renamed Libbey Glass— to Toledo. Libbey hired an inventor named Michael Joseph Owens, whose work would soon revolutionize the glass-making business.

“And between the two of them, they changed the face of Toledo,” author Robert Zollweg said. “I mean, with Libbey Glass, Owens-Illinois, Libbey-Owens-Ford, Owens Corning — all these companies came out of what his vision was. And I just thought that was interesting.”

The rest, as they say, is Glass City history— a history chronicled in the new book 200 Years of Glass, written by Zollweg and published by University of Toledo Press.

“It just was a natural for me to want to share that with the community here. Plus, the purpose of the book was originally to celebrate Libbey’s 200th anniversary as a company. And that’s when I started the book,” Zollweg said.

The rest of the story

It was a natural choice for Zollweg to tell this story. For 48 years he worked as a designer and creative director for the company. Basically, he was their historian. It had been a while since a book had properly profiled the history and importance of the Libbey company in the Toledo community. Carl Fauster’s Libbey Glass Since 1818, an impressive pictorial history, was published in 1979.

“My whole thing was, let’s tell the rest of the story. I’d been there since 1970, I thought, this might be a good time just to bring people up to speed on where Libbey was and where they were going,” Zollweg said.

Zollweg’s connections to Libbey, as well as to the Toledo Museum of Art’s own remarkable archives, gave him plenty of material to work with. Originally 200 Years of Glass was planned as an official work published by Libbey itself in commemoration of the company’s bicentennial.

“Things changed, and it went from Libbey to the University Press, which ended up publishing it for me,” Zollweg said. “Which is okay, because it gave me a lot more freedom when you don’t have to report to a company and all the legal issues you have when you do a company thing.”

One family’s impact

One thing that the book’s story makes plain is how important the Libbey family was in crafting the history of Toledo. Yes, it’s called the “Glass City,” of course Libbey has had an impact. But Zollweg hopes readers get a sense of how far reaching the Libbeys’ influence was even beyond their factory doors.

“They were pretty important people to the community. And I know we had the Stranahans from Champion Spark Plugs, and we had Toledo Scale, and the Jeep Corporation, and all those big companies that were here. But the Libbeys were the philanthropists of the community. They’re the ones that obviously developed the Toledo Museum of Art, very involved in other community and charity organizations.”

The Libbeys’ legacy is so complex and looms so large over the story of Toledo, in fact, that it was a struggle for Zollweg to decide what he had room to include in the space of one volume.

“I mean, I could do another edition to the book in a heartbeat,” Zollweg said. “There is so much more that we could add to it, pictorial-wise, to show the vast amount of glass that Libbey produced over the years.

“I’m hoping that people in the community will buy and read the book and realize how important this man and his family was to the community, and what they’ve done for us, and the legacy that they’ve left us.”

Order ‘200 Years of Glass’ at utoledopress.com for $22.95.
Zollweg will discuss the book during a Brown Bag Lunch event at the Toledo Bar Association on Wednesday, January 22 at noon.