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Toledo still proudly wears title of 'Glass City'


Toledo mayors continue to give glass keys much like this one to visiting dignitaries and distinguished citizens.

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Sixty-two years ago, Paul Block, Jr., co-publisher of The Blade, received a glass key to the city of Toledo on Glass Day, which Mr. Block said was the most important day in the city's history because it marked Toledo as the glass center of the world.

That day was the opening of the new Union Station, now the Martin Luther King, Jr., Plaza. A 50-by-4-foot glass mural with the image of a map that put Toledo at the center of the world was unveiled at the station. The mural remains and it continues to boast, "Toledo, glass center of the world." In a Sept. 22, 1950, Blade news story about the unveiling, headlines stated: "Mural Unveiled In Station As Highlight of Glass Day -- Huge Map To Be Constant Reminder That Toledo Is Center Of Industry."

Featured at the event were glass items from Toledo's "big four" glass companies, and in attendance were presidents of those firms: Carl Megowen of Owens-Illinois Glass Co., Randolph Barnard of Glass Fibers Inc., John Biggers of Libbey-Owens-Ford Glass Co., and Harold Boeschenstein of Owens Corning Fiberglas Corp.

In recognition of Mr. Block's leadership as general chairman of the Union Station dedication committee, Mayor Michael V. DiSalle presented Mr. Block with a glass key on Glass Day during a luncheon at the Hillcrest Hotel. Toledo mayors continue to give glass keys to visiting dignitaries and distinguished citizens.

READ MORE: Transformations -- 50 years of glass art

The 1950 report said that Grove Patterson, editor-in-chief of The Blade, "traced the 4,000-year-old history of glass" during his keynote address at the Hillcrest luncheon. He "asserted that the industry in Toledo was great because the men who made it so had risen to the Fifth Freedom -- freedom of imagination," the report said.

More than a decade later, the late Don Wolfe noted that one of the city's keys was given in 1956 to a vice presidential candidate who referred to the souvenir as a "plastic key." Other reports state that Mayor Ollie Czelusta promptly corrected Richard M. Nixon, and for good reason: This is not the plastic city. It is the Glass City, also often called the Glass Capital of the World, and it all came to fruition because innovative minds refused to bow to limitations.

In 1888, an attractive economic development package and plenty of natural gas persuaded a young Edward Drummond Libbey to relocate his family's glass company from Massachusetts. He hired an inventor and glassblower named Michael J. Owens of West Virginia to be manager. It was a fortuitous union. The Owens name remains powerful here in both glass and education, thanks to Owens Corning, Owens-Illinois, and Owens Community College.

In 1891, Mr. Libbey married Florence Scott. Together, they had a weighty role in launching the Toledo Museum of Art in 1901, of which they became major benefactors, traveling the world to purchase some of the best glass collections, which they donated to the museum.

While the Libbeys were influential in building the foundation for Toledo to become a center of glass art, there were other contributors. One of them was Harvey Littleton, a ceramicist who helped to take glassblowing from the factory to the studio. Also, Dominick Labino was a glass researcher at Johns Manville and an art-glass hobbyist.

It took more than business and creative minds for Toledo to become the Glass City. Monetary gifts were key toward making this the world's glass capital. Mr. Boeschtenstein, for example, provided a half-million-dollar gift to build the two-story gallery for the museum's glass holdings, a site that is the new Wolfe Gallery for Contemporary Art. In 2006, the $30 million, 7,600-square-foot Toledo museum's Glass Pavilion opened on Monroe Street across from the museum.

Like most industries, Toledo's glass businesses have been adversely affected during economic setbacks. But the city still proudly wears the title of the Glass City. This is where much of the industry started, where organizations and businesses use the description in their own names.

Three years ago, the Wall Street Journal said the city "acquired its Glass City moniker because of a long history of innovation in all aspects of the glass business."

Contact Rose Russell at: or 419-724-6178.

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