How Corning used its manufacturing expertise to spread holiday cheer
As part of your family’s holiday tradition, you may be unboxing at least a few glass ornaments to celebrate the season. These treasured ornaments are part of your personal history, but did you know that Corning plays a role in the history of glass ornaments, too?
Until the end of the 1930s, the glass ornament industry centered in Lauscha, Germany, where most of the colorful baubles were made by families working from their homes. Ornaments were mostly lampworked, meaning they were made by hand, with artisans melting glass tubing over a small table-top flame, blowing a bubble into the softened glass and then shaping. They could add color during the shaping process, or the ornaments might be hand-painted once they cooled.
With the world events leading up to World War II, it became difficult to bring ornaments from Germany into the U.S. market. So in 1939, Corning stepped up, employing their ribbon machine technology to automate the process of making and supplying America with glass ornaments.
The ribbon machine was originally created by William J. Woods and David E. Gray in 1926 to mass produce glass bulbs for Edison's electric lamp. This new manufacturing process allowed the production of up to 400,000 bulb blanks in a 24-hour period. In 1933, this high-speed machine drove down the cost of radio bulbs, ultimately making radios more affordable to consumers. When Corning discovered the need to create ornaments in the wake of global events, the ribbon machine seemed like a natural fit.
Production of ornaments occurred part of the year at the Corning plant in Wellsboro, Pennsylvania, where employees churned out 300,000 ornaments a day. Corning decorated and sold some ornaments, but the majority were made for and sold through Shiny Brite™.
Corning Glass Works (the former name of Corning Incorporated) produced glass ornaments until 1981. Now, most glass ornaments are made outside the United States.