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Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company

PITTSBURGH PLATE GLASS COMPANY


In 1883 Captain John B. Ford and John Pitcairn created the Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company (PPG), which became the first financially successful U.S. plate glass manufacturer. Originally located in Creighton, Pennsylvania, northeast of Pittsburgh, the company moved its headquarters to Pittsburgh in 1895. Prior to the 1880s more than a dozen plate glass makers had tried unsuccessfully to compete with their European counterparts. Despite U.S. technical ability in the field, plate glass for growing U.S. cities continued to be imported from Belgium, England, France, and Germany.

Ford left the company in 1896, leaving Pitcairn firmly in control. PPG began diversifying around the turn of the century with the construction of a plant in Barberton, Ohio, that produced soda ash, a major raw material used in making glass. This endeavor formed the foundation for the company's chemicals business. In 1900 PPG acquired a Milwaukee paint company that became the foundation of its coatings business. Because paints were distributed through the same channels as glass, they were a logical extension for the company. PPG also diversified into the production of window glass through a factory in Mount Vernon, Ohio, which opened in 1907. Pitcairn died in 1916, having built PPG over a 33-year period into the largest plate glass manufacturer in the United States as well as diversifying its product line and developing sources of raw material.

The 1920s were prosperous for PPG. As steel-cage and concrete-reinforced construction became the standard for building, architects were able to design structures with larger window units, and glass consumption reached record levels in the United States. During this decade, the automobile industry also began consuming more glass. The switch from the open touring car to the sedan caused an expanded need for glass, and PPG met the demand.

PPG also made several technological innovations during the 1920s. In 1924 the company switched from the batch method of making plate glass to the ribbon method. Molten glass from a constantly replenished melting furnace flowed through water-cooled shaping rollers. The glass was then cooled and cut into large plates. In 1928 PPG first mass-produced sheet glass, using the Pittsburgh Process, which improved quality and sped production. For the first time PPG was a major supplier of window glass. The Pittsburgh Process, invented by PPG, involves drawing a continuous sheet of molten glass from a tank vertically up a four-story forming and cooling line. In 1928 the Creighton Process was developed. An economical process for laminating glass for automobile windshields, PPG introduced Duplate laminated safety glass through a glass-plastic unit.

During the 1950s car production and construction of new homes and glass and steel buildings exploded. PPG stepped up production to meet demand, and continued to diversify. Fiberglass had been a laboratory novelty until the 1930s; by 1950, however, it was being used in decorative fabrics and for insulation. In 1952 PPG opened its fiberglass business, making both textiles and reinforcements. In succeeding years fiber-glass was found to be useful for more and more applications, with PPG being one of the leading developers of new fiberglass products and processes.

In 1955 PPG's sales topped $500 million. PPG employed 33,000 people in seven glass plants, three glass-fabricating plants, two specialty plants, two fiberglass plants, 17 coating and resins plants, and five chemical plants. In the early 1960s PPG produced materials for the building, transportation, appliance, container, boating, textile, paper, television, and chemical industries. In 1963 PPG became the first U.S. company to manufacture float glass, used in place of plate glass by architects.

During the early part of the 1960s a heavy capital-investment program moved the company toward $1 billion in sales, a goal it reached in 1968. Also that year, the company changed its name to PPG Industries, Inc. to reflect its size, diversification, and global presence. By the late 1990s PPG Industries was a global producer of flat glass, fiberglass, fabricated glass products, coatings, resins, and industrial and specialty chemicals.


FURTHER READING

Baker, Stephen. "A New Paint Job at PPG." Business Week, November 13, 1995.

Berss, Marcia. "Leveraged for Takeoff." Forbes, November 22, 1993.

Byrne, Harlan S. "PPG Industries Inc.: It Tops the Goals Set in Its Ambitious 'Blueprint."' Barron's, February 26, 1990.

PPG Industries, Inc. A Concern for the Future: A History of PPG Industries, Inc. Pittsburgh: PPG Industries, Inc., 1976.

"PPG Industries: Now into Its Second Century." Paint and Coatings Journal, September 5, 1983.

Sheeline, William E. "Managing a Clan Worth $1 Billion." Fortune, June 4, 1990.

Storck, William J. "PPG Belies Its Age: The 115-Year-Old Company Is Trying to Shed Its Image as a Staid Old Company while It Moves Quickly and Grows Fast." Chemical and Engineering News, January 26, 1998.

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