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Published: Sunday, 5/15/2005

After 32 years, idea for name takes hold

Spokesman Carol Gee, with the corporate logo, says that everywhere in the company, employees called the firm O-I. Spokesman Carol Gee, with the corporate logo, says that everywhere in the company, employees called the firm O-I.

The world's largest glass-container maker is recycling a 32-year-old idea.

If it works this time, the world will in time forget about Owens-Illinois Inc. and think of the firm as simply O-I, just as many people don't know what IBM, AT&T, or 3M originally stood for.

O-I announced last month that the headquarters in Toledo and all 22 subsidiaries worldwide will change their signs and stationery to just "O-I," using the familiar red O, blue I, and white hyphen introduced in 1973.

But in 1973, the company seriously considered that option, along with those of changing the name to Owens International or Owens Industries or Owens Inc.

A generation later, some of the same choices surfaced.

The decision to go with the simpler O-I was made a year after Steven McCracken left DuPont to become O-I's chairman and chief executive officer.

"One of the first things Steve saw and wanted to redirect was that O-I was really run as a 'holding company' instead of a 'global company,'‚óŹ" said spokesman Carol Gee, who also came to O-I last year after 25 years as DuPont's brand manager.

Now, as in the 1970s, the Toledo company worked with a consulting firm. The earlier consultant succeeded in getting O-I to streamline its antiquated logo into the block letters in use today.

But top company executives vetoed a name change. The firm had changed its name in 1965, when it dropped the word "glass" from Owens-Illinois Glass Co.

One of the choices, Owens Industries, faced legal conflicts in some states; the word "international" was ruled out because too many companies were using it; and O-I wasn't quite ready for using just initials.

This time, the second-largest firm in Toledo consulted Enterprise IG, a New York brand-identity firm that has worked for many industrial giants.

One problem was that O-I's logo was used in at least 25 ways around the world, sometimes along with other names and other symbols.

"We looked like a lot of different companies," said Ms. Gee. But everywhere, company employees called the firm O-I, she added.

Owens International was considered but rejected, she explained, at least partly because of the name confusion with Owens Corning, also Toledo-based.

For the glass giant, the Owens name comes from inventor Michael J. Owens, whose automatic bottle-blowing machine gave O-I its start in 1903. The Illinois part came from its merger with the former Illinois Glass Co.

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