Michael J. Owens has finally received that honor. The National Inventors Hall of Fame has announced that 41 inventors will be inducted into the 2007 hall of fame. Among those are Owens and his revolutionary invention -- the automatic glass bottle-making machine.
Michael J. Owens, a glassmaker since the age of 10, moved to Ohio to join a start-up glass company founded by Edward Libbey in 1888 and began America’s first industry -- glassmaking. Libbey financed Owens’ dream of creating a glassblowing machine, the most significant development in glassmaking since the invention of the blowpipe more than 3,000 years ago.
Owens’ success came in 1903. That’s when he made the first automatic glass bottle-making machine that could create bottles so quickly and cheaply it facilitated the growth of numerous industries that bottled everything from food and beverages to household chemicals. He went on to help develop mass-production techniques for window glass and helped guide the company into research that eventually led to the production of fiberglass.
This invention made glass a commodity instead of a luxury. It also helped to eliminate child labor, which was rampant in the early glassblowing days. His work also made it possible for thousands of jobs to be created – jobs that are still in existence today.
The Owens machine, which led to the formation of the Owens Bottle Company, literally revolutionized the glass industry and the O-I family tree began to grow. Owens Bottle and the Illinois Glass Company which was started at Alton in 1873, merged to form Owens-Illinois in 1929. In 1965, the corporate name was changed from Owens-Illinois Glass Co. to Owens-Illinois, Inc., (NYSE: OI) to reflect the broader scope of operations. In recent years, the company that started by a single invention has significantly increased its worldwide operations, both through internal growth as well as acquisitions. In 2005, Owens-Illinois, Inc. began doing business worldwide as O-I.
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