Updated 21-III-2020

Pitney Glass

The Pitney Glass Works was opened by General Electric in 1919, and for many decades was one of the company's principal manufacturing sites of glass bulbs for electric lamps. It took a pioneering role and was GE's first operation for the production of glass bulbs on both the Westlake as well as the Ribbon type machines. Its history is closely linked with that of the Euclid Glass Works, as well as the so-called New Pitney Glass Works. The interrelaton of these operations is not always clear, in view of their location within the sprawling group of buildings engaged in lamp component manufacturing, which ultimately together became known simply as the East 152nd Street Facility. The precise date of termination of glassmaking operations on this site is not known.

Aerial View of the East 152nd Street Facility in 1994 5

Address 1133 East 152nd Street, Cleveland, Ohio, OH44110, U.S.A.
Location Centre of site approximately 41.5475°N, -81.5730°E
Opened Pitney Glass in 1919, with New Pitney Glass joining in 1932.
Closed Approx 1995-2010.
Products Glass Bulbs.

The Original Pitney Glass Works
The Pitney Glass Works was opened by General Electric in 1919, as the company's principal site for the quantity production of glass bulb shells for incandescent lamps. It was located beside the former Euclid Glass Works, on GE's vast industrial complex at East 152nd Street in Cleveland, OH. Pitney replaced Euclid, which was in the process of closing down while Pitney was being scaled up to take over.

The reason for the replacement of the Euclid works by Pitney was triggered by the development of the so-called 'Westlake Machine', by the Libbey Glass Manufacturing Company of Toledo, Ohio, in 1916. These monstrous iron machines were operated experimentally during 1917-18, and eventually ran 24-hours per day to mass produce glass bulbs without human intervention. Until the time of their development, the glass bulb represented a significant part of the cost of an electric lamp, but the new fully automated process slashed that to just a tiny fraction of total lamp cost. Naturally as the world's principal and leading manufacturer of electric lamps, GE negotiated to acquire the rights to the Westlake machine design in 1918, and the following year established its own regular production by this new method. Far from being only a mechanical development, GE's engineers from the Glass Technology Laboratory were heavily involved because the automatic process required the development of a new kind of glass. This led to electric lamps changing at this time from lead-alkali-silicate to soda-lime-silicate glass.

Pitney was opened with four Westlakes being supplied by a single glass furnace on a 24-hour process. The original machines had 12 heads, and during the first year they produced about 65,000 bulbs per machine per day. During the following years GE's Glass Technology Laboratory made substantial improvements to the Westlake process and for a number of years became the clear leader in the design of glass bulb manufacturing equipment. One of the principal advancements was the 'Ivanhoe Machine' which blew two bulbs at each machine position, and of course doubled the output. It is not known whether the idea for that machine originated at GE, however the rear of Pitney Glass Works is adjacent to Ivanhoe Road, which perhaps suggests some link to the origins of the new machine. GE also operated another factory on that street, known as the Ivanhoe Road Plant, but that site is not believed to have been involved in glassmaking. By the middle of the 1920s these improved machines were able to blow 120,000 bulbs per machine per day. Later still the process was refined with the development of the 'Ohio Machine', which blew 4 bulbs per machine position. By 1932 the most advanced machines at Pitney were each producing as many as 180,000 bulbs per day.

RCA Activities
While Pitney Glass was opening, the adjacent Euclid Glass site was closing down. However its buildings did not lay empty, and by December 1919 had been taken over by General Electric's radio tube division, the Radiophone Corporation of America. The history and technology of electronic valves and tubes is closely linked with that of the incandescent lamp, and RCA had in fact been formed within the Cuyahoga Building - an experimental lamp plant situated a few miles away at the NELA Park headquarters of GE's Lamp Division.

The demand for radio valves grew rapidly, and before long additional space raw required. The vacation of the Euclid Glass Works provided an ideal location for this expansion. Not only was the distance conveniently short for the former employees of the Cuyahoga tube division, but the glass envelopes for these electronic tubes were of course also produced by the Westlake machines of Pitney Glass.

RCA continued to grow, and after a decade of operations required still larger premises. In 1932 it relocated once again to its final and principal home in the buildings of the former Edison Lamp Works at Harrison NJ, which had been vacated in 1929. This left the original Euclid Glass site once again vacant.

New Pitney Glass Works
In 1927 the future of the Pitney Glass works was challenged, when Corning Glass Works of New York invented an entirely new process of glass bulb production - known as the 'Ribbon Machine'. This extraordinarly efficient and elegant process transformed a continous flow of molten glass into an endless flat ribbon, which fell onto a moving chain of orifice plates through which part of the ribbon would sag under gravity, to be met by a similarly moving chain of moulds below and blowing tips above. The continuous motion process at once usurped the capacity of the Westlake and Ivanhoe machines then in production, producing around 7,000 bulbs per hour, or 168,000 per day. The Ribbon-made bulbs were also of considerably better quality and consistency, and it was clear that the new machine would displace all but a few special low-volume glass bulbs.

As the inventor of this impressive new process, Corning was of course first to market and to reap the commercial benefits of Ribbon Bulbs. However GE's engineers from the Glass Machine Works and the Glass Technology laboratories worked together with Corning engineers to iron out the bugs in the new process, and to establish its own Ribbon Machine production. As Pitney was the company's principal glass bulb production facility it was advantageous to locate the new Ribbon machine nearby - which was facilitated by RCA's vaction of the Euclid Glass Works.

This resulted in the opening of the so-called 'New Pitney Glass Works' on the site of the former Euclid Glass Works in 1932. GE's first Ribbon machine was installed there in 1933, and entered full production in 1934.

It is not certain whether the original Euclid Glass buildings were maintained, or demolished to make way for New Pitney Glass. It is also not known whether the Pitney and New Pitney glass factories were ultimately amalgamated, in view of their neighbouring location - or whether the original Pitney Glass factory's older Westlake / Ivanhoe / Ohio bulb processes may have been terminated following the opening of the New Pitney ribbon factory. Such details have been lost over time, as the entire site, which produced many other raw materials for lamps and tubes, simply became known as the East 152nd Street Facility. Similarly, the precise date of termination of glassmaking operations on that site is not known.

Looking at the 1994 aerial view of the East 152nd Street Facility, it is believed that the New Pitney Glass Works was located at the rear centre of the site beside Ivanhoe Road. Aside from the tall chimney, the hallmark of that building having once housed a glass factory is the double horn-like structure on its roof, known as a Robertson Air Extractor. That device provided a particularly efficient natural convective ventilation of industrial buildings housing processes that produce a great deal of heat, and was favoured by GE's building engineers for the majority of its modern glass plants. This characteristic architectural feature can be seen in the images of other American GE sites at Jackson Glass, Kentucky Glass, Mahoning Glass, Niles Glass and Somerset Glass.

During the following years the speed and efficiency of the GE Ribbon Machines was improved, by the 1950s having reached the phenomenal rate of about 50,000 bulbs per hour. Despite this vast production capacity, such was the demand for incandescent lamps that in 1937 GE installed additional ribbon machines at the Niles Glass Plant, and again in 1957 at the Kentucky Glass Plant. The GE machines were ultimately further accelerated to surpass 2000 bulbs per minute - just short of a phenomenal 3 million bulbs per machine per day.

At the time of the turn of the 21st century the requirement for soft-glass bulbs began to decline sharply in North America. This followed the gradual replacement of incandescent lamps by compact fluorescent technologies, and then its near-complete obsolescence following the introduction of still more efficient LED lamps. It is believed that Pitney Glass ceased production of soft glass bulbs around 2000, followed by Niles in 2007, and eventually Kentucky in 2010. Changing market requirements have resulted in the company no longer operating any glass bulb production activities.

References & Bibliography
  1. A Century of Light, James A. Cox, published by The Benjamin Company / Rutgers, 1979, ISBN 0-87502-062-3, pp.135, 136, 138-140.
  2. Lamps for a Brighter America, Paul W. Keating, published by McGraw-Hill, 1954, pp.116, 129-130.
  3. Journal of the American Ceramic Society, Vol.1 1918, pp.72 & 825.
  4. Decoding RCA Factory Codes - markings on RCA vacuum tubes, made at former Euclid Glass plant Dec 1919-1932.
  5. Google Earth aerial view of site, 1994.