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Moment of Indiana History

Ball Brothers Glass

The discovery of a giant oil field in northeast Indiana toward the end of the nineteenth century ushered in a golden era of industry for Indiana. The automobile was but one product of the gas boom. Gas-fired furnaces are key in the manufacture of glass, and by 1900 myriad glass companies were vying for business from Muncie to Dunkirk to Kokomo and beyond.

Firms such as the Indiana Glass Company devoted its plant to the production of pressed and blown decorative glass. The Kokomo Opalescent Glass Company became a principal supplier of stained glass to the New York studios of Louis Comfort Tiffany and John LaFarge. The Root Glass Company designed and produced the original Coca-Cola bottles.

The glass brand that, quite literally, became a household name was Ball. In 1880, the five Ball brothers started the Wooden Jacket Can Company in Buffalo, New York, making wooden-wrapped tin containers for paint and kerosene. Though the business was successful, its flagship product evolved.

In time, the glass canning jar was the Ball brothers’ focus, and the renamed company relocated to Muncie to take advantage of the natural gas readily available there. Ball Brothers Glass Manufacturing Company became known for its efficiency and self-sufficiency. At its peak the Ball plant produced 30 jars a minute. Ultimately Ball Brothers took over production of the lids for the jars and the cardboard boxes to ship them—not incidentally in company-owned railcars.

By 1936, the company had five plants outside of Indiana, and employed 2500 workers at its headquarters in Muncie. In 1917, the Ball brothers’ beneficence kept the Indiana Normal Institute from foreclosure. In recognition of that gift and the family’s ongoing philanthropy, the school was eventually renamed Ball State University.

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