2016 Daytrip: Indiana / Kokomo Opalescent Glass [KOG] factory

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KOKOMO OPALESCENT GLASS: America’s Oldest Art Glass Company

Art glass are fascinating! They sparkle and shine in rainbow colors. Art glass domes and windows have decorated the some of most beautiful buildings, churches and cathedrals. While photographing some landmark buildings in Chicago, I learnt that many of the decorative art glass were made in Kokomo, Indiana. Like the impressive ceiling at the Auditorium Building, and the spectacular dome in Nickerson Mansion have been made from glass produced at the Kokomo Opalescent Glass factory. Their website proudly claim.. “What do the Vatican, Disney World, and Barabara Streisand’s house have in common? All have colored glass windows made from Indiana’s own Kokomo Opalescent Glass, the oldest art glass company in America.”

To my delight I learned about weekday tours of their facility. So Tuesday August 23, I drove down to Kokomo to learn how art glass is made.

Some Highlights about Kokomo Opalescent Glass [KOG]..
–  KOG is nation’s oldest manufacturer of opalescent glass.  Since 1888, it has been in continuous operation at its current location of 1310 S. Market Street in Kokomo, Indiana.

- KOG is known worldwide for “hand mixed” sheet glass art and colored glass.

- KOG makes about 22,000 colors and textures of glass.

Check out their website.. click here..

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 Kokomo Opalescent Glass factory

Kokomo Opalescent Glass factory

 

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First, a brief history: Kokomo Opalescent Glass [KOG] factory was established in 1888.

Two events happened that resulted in the opening of KOG factory. In the 1880s natural gas was discovered in Kokomo, Indiana, and new gas companies were formed. Charles Edward Henry, was one of many entrepreneurs who was drawn to Indiana by the discovery of natural gas. Charles Edward Henry was born in Paris France in 1846. He migrated to the United States in the early 1880’s. He was a good glass chemist and he formed Henry Art Glass in New Rochelle New York in 1883. In 1888, he visited Kokomo upon hearing about the gas boom. Within 24 hours of his visit he had an agreement with local officials to provide him a plant site and more importantly a natural gas supply. The result was opening of this art glass factory.

One of Henry’s earliest clients was Louis Tiffany, who he knew from his New York days. But the biggest break for KOG came in 1889, when his sheets of glass won a Gold Medal at the World’s Fair in Paris. What followed was over $50,000 worth of sheet glass orders. the business kept developing and diversifying.

The year 2016, marks the 128 years of its continuous operation at its current location of 1310 S. Market Street in Kokomo, Indiana.

KOG offers factory tours five days a week – Monday through Friday – at 10:00 a.m.
I took the tour on Tuesday, August 23, 2016.

The highlights of the tour included the fascinating process of making hand-mixed sheet glass, a look into the Hot Glass Studio, bead making, glass cutting, a look at display rooms of glass sheets for clients.. and in all this what I found most interesting is that the tour was very up close and personal. We really had a close look at the process while the employees were working.

If you decide to take a tour make sure to wear closed shoe with thick sole as there are scattered glass pieces on the floor.

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 Kokomo Opalescent Glass

The 12-pot furnace, also called beehive   / Kokomo Opalescent Glass

 

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Mixing Table / Kokomo Opalescent Glass

Pouring hot molten glass from the furnance on the Mixing Table / Kokomo Opalescent Glass

 

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Process: Making hand-mixed Sheet Glass Art
For more than 122 years Kokomo Opalescent Glass has been producing world famous “hand-mixed” sheet glass art. Hand mixed sheet glass is an art form in itself. Many of the employees are second and third generation and are proud to carry on the rich heritage of. The process remains very much the same as is was in the beginning. “Recipes” that are over 122 years old are still hand mixed to make sheet art glass.

KOG has 12-pot furnace – also called beehive – that can cook 12 colors at the same time.  It is a continuously fired, natural-gas fueled melting furnace. The ingredients are placed into one of the 12 pots of the furnace where they are melted together. Glass is scooped out of the pots using one of many sizes of ladles and placed on the mixing table. When the glass comes out of this furnace it is at 2600 degrees! [In the video, note that they bounce ‘bounce’ the ladle so that the glass does not stick to the ladle, and does not start cooling unevenly]. The molten glass is then hand mixed by fork, and sent through the rollers which contain one of 17 textures and positioned to go through the Lehr (the annealing oven) which takes about 1/2 hour to be annealed. [The LEHR is a temperature controlled kiln for annealing of the newly formed flat glass. Annealing of glass is a process of slowly cooling hot glass objects after they have been formed]. The process gradually cools the molten glass to reduce mechanical stress and potential for cracking as it travels through the length of the kiln. The whole process of producing hand mixed sheet glass in this manner is a very labor intensive process.

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Glass Sheet / Kokomo Opalescent Glass

Glass Sheet / Kokomo Opalescent Glass

 

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Glass Sheets / Kokomo Opalescent Glass

Glass Sheets / Kokomo Opalescent Glass

 

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When the sheet glass is produced, they are cut into necessary size and shape, like square or rectangular pieces. The edges of sheet glass are cut-off in the process.  These trimmed glass pieces are crushed in a machine and transferred into barrels. These are not thrown away, but are used very productively.  The crushed glass pieces become raw materials for KOG Hot Glass Studio, which produces blown, pressed, and hand cast glass wares. Many glass studios have to purchase raw materials from outside sources. But the Hot Glass Studio at KOG can select its raw materials from the hundreds of barrels of crushed glass which are on the factory floor, and remelt them for its use.

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Crushed glass in barrels / Kokomo Opalescent Glass

Barrels of crushed glass / Kokomo Opalescent Glass

 

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Crushed glass in barrels / Kokomo Opalescent Glass

Barrels of crushed glass / Kokomo Opalescent Glass

 

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Kokomo Opalescent Glass

Hot Glass Studio / Kokomo Opalescent Glass

 

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The Hot Glass Studio was established in 1998. It produces functional and sculptural glass objects – vases, bowls, paperweights, serving boards, jewelry, beads and such – designed and created by on staff artists. The hot glass studio produces both clear and color glass. The studio has a 300 pound furnace which produces clear glass, and there are four smaller furnaces, 45 pound each, with smaller crucibles that can produce four different colors.

 

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Demonstration of making glass beads

Demonstration of making glass beads

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Tour guide Kevin shows us the different types of objects made at Kokomo Opalescent Glass factory

Tour guide Kevin shows us the different types of objects made at Kokomo Opalescent Glass factory

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Our tour-guide Kevin shows us the different types of objects made at Kokomo Opalescent Glass factory. He also showed some photos of buildings that have used glass from the factory . One photo resonated with me. The image of stained glass dome at Driehaus Museum in Nickerson Mansion [image below.. click here].. .. as I have taken tours of this place.

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Kokomo Opalescent Glass

Kokomo Opalescent Glass

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Stained glass dome at Driehaus Museum/ Nickerson Mansion

Stained glass dome at Driehaus Museum/ Nickerson Mansion, Chicago.

 

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Rainbow Room - with different color glass sheets  /  Kokomo Opalescent Glass

Rainbow Room with samples of different color glass sheets / Kokomo Opalescent Glass

 

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They say Louis Comfort Tiffany was here when he visited KOG / Kokomo Opalescent Glass

They say Louis Comfort Tiffany was here when he visited KOG / Kokomo Opalescent Glass

 

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Samples / Kokomo Opalescent Glass

Samples / Kokomo Opalescent Glass

 

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Kokomo Opalescent Glass

Kokomo Opalescent Glass

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Note the different patterns on glass with very interesting names, including moonface,  nipple, samurai, and turtleback.. apart from iceberg, pinchback, floral and others.

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Kokomo Opalescent Glass

Kokomo Opalescent Glass

 

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Packed for shipping / Kokomo Opalescent Glass

Packed for shipping / Kokomo Opalescent Glass

 

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Preserving History - signature wall /  Kokomo Opalescent Glass

Preserving History – signature wall / Kokomo Opalescent Glass

 

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Preserving History - signature wall / Kokomo Opalescent Glass

Preserving History – signature wall / Kokomo Opalescent Glass

 

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Kokomo Opalescent Glass

Kokomo Opalescent Glass

 

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Kokomo Opalescent Glass

Kokomo Opalescent Glass

 

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The remarkable ceiling / Gift Shop - Kokomo Opalescent Glass

The remarkable ceiling / Gift Shop – Kokomo Opalescent Glass

 

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Selfie with tour guide Katie

Selfie with tour guide Katie

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A shout out for wonderful Katie! I was late.. a whole 10 minutes late. It was a long – more than 3 hours drive – from my place. When I reached, I was like “could I please still join the tour”.  Katie was at the desk. She was like “settle down”. She gave me a tour of whatever I had missed, and let me join the group tour by Kevin! Thank You Katie! I am grateful for your kind consideration. And thank You Kevin for the excellent tour!

 

Published by Jyoti Srivastava
Image copyright © Jyoti Srivastava

 

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Related Links:
Check out KOG website.. click here..
Art Glass.. click here..

Home.. click here..
Indianapolis Attractions.. click here..

My Vacations.. click here..
Vacation: USA.. click here..
Vacation: UK.. click here..
Vacation: India.. click here..
UNESCO World Heritage Site.. click here..

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1 Comment to “2016 Daytrip: Indiana / Kokomo Opalescent Glass [KOG] factory”

  1. Kevin says:

    Awesome article, thanks for coming in!

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