For 45 years, the Owens-Illinois Glass Company ran a manufacturing plant in Huntington, West Virginia. This was a successful plant owned by Michael Owens, known for his invention of the bottle-making machine that changed the glass industry at the turn of the century. They were a significant manufacturer in the area at the time, providing jobs for thousands of employees and producing millions of products at the Huntington plant over the years.
Before being known as Owens-Illinois Glass Company, it was first known as Owens Bottle Machine Company. The company was founded by West Virginian Michael Owens. Owens moved from Mason County, to Toledo, Ohio where he worked in a glass factory owned by Edward Libbey. After working his way up in the company, and with the support of Libbey’s finances, Owens was able to build his innovative bottle-making machine in 1903. This machine automated the bottle-making process. With his success from his machine, Owens was able to start his company.
There were three plants in operation in West Virginia, the first being in Fairmont, then Huntington, then in Kanawha City. The plant in Huntington was first built and owned by Charles Boldt in 1914 and was also a glass manufacturer. In 1918, Owens purchased the factory and in 1919 the company name changed to Owens Bottle Company. Then it underwent another name change in 1929 after a merger to become Owens-Illinois Glass Company. The Huntington plant also had a name change to the Glass Container Division of Owens-Illinois. Along with the other West Virginia plants, Huntington had employed about 1,100 people by 1947 and made millions of containers over the years in production.
Owens-Illinois faced struggles over the years, including the Great Depression and Prohibition. During the Depression, six plants had to be closed. In glass manufacturing, one of their key products was making bottles for alcohol. Owens-Illinois had to work around Prohibition and began producing bottles for other products such as milk and fruit. The decline of Owens-Illinois in West Virginia began when the demand for plastic products started to increase rapidly. The plant in Kanawha City, that was at one point the largest bottle making factory worldwide, was the first to close in 1963. Next to close in 1982 was the plant in Fairmont. Lastly, the Huntington plant followed in 1993. This was a loss not only for the company, but for the city of Huntington. The plant was a major employer for people in the area, and when it finally closed, 650 people were left without jobs. After its closure, the city of Huntington bought the plant and renamed it, once again, to the Huntington Industrial Center, hoping that a company would purchase it and bring business to the area. In 2011, a company that provides products for the military and NASA, named Level 1 Fasteners, bought the plant.
While none remain in the state today, the Owens-Illinois Glass Company helped provide jobs for Huntington and other parts of West Virginia. Today, O-I is the leading glass manufacturing company in the world with factories all over the world. In addition, West Virginia native Michael Owens' invention still remains the basis for glass bottle-making. Even though it is no longer a glass manufacturer, the building that houses Level 1 Fasteners is still around today providing jobs for people of Huntington.