Glass Block Engineering Triumph, long dramatic story about Muncie plant, brass bushed insulators


Publication: The Muncie Sunday Star

Muncie, IN, United States
vol. 58, no. 365, p. 1 Sect. 2, 6 Sect. 2, col. 3-5,5-6

Glass Block, Engineering Triumph

Hemingray Division of Owens-Illinois Company is First to Perfect Process That May Revolutionize Industry.

New Product Result of Experiments Carried Out Under Direction of W. Paul Zimmerman, Plant Manager.

By Bob Barnet.

Fire! Red god conquered by the craft of man. Bound like the patient ox in the harness of toil he curses and strains at his bonds. The flame of his cursing rushes from beneath great melting pots to blister the hands of his human master, to scorch his grimy shirt, but he is mastered. The breath from his mighty lungs, the breath drawn from the sun above, or from the fires of damnation below, is made to melt the iron to make man's bridges, the iron from whence comes the plowshare of peace, the broad claymore of war.

There is a drama in this subjugation of a mighty force. The smithy of old held a strange fascination. The showering sparks from a blacksmith's ringing anvil through the years have been reflected in the charmed eyes of passerby. A force of nature is conquered, and as man, cunning taskmaster, lashes a hulking laborer, other men marvel.

Thus there is a strange fascination connected with the great industries wherein fire is made to perform its part in the fulfillment of the dreams of men of science. There is drama in the village blacksmith shop there is greater drama in a giant glass plant.

And amid these glamorous surroundings, in dim workshops lit by the glow of mighty furnaces, crack workmen of a Muncie organization are manufacturing a glass product that is destined to mark an important step in the history of man's building.

The Hemingray Division, unit of the Owens-Illinois Glass Company, rears its vine-covered buildings sedately in the southeast section of the city. Its prim exterior hides a bee-hive of feverish activity. In the long brick buildings which stretch to the eastward from the Macedonia avenue front, trained workers are at work producing, through a process heretofore veiled in secrecy, a glass building block far superior to many other standard building materials.

Triumph for Local Staff.

In the local plant has been developed a process the practical development of which has long been the goal of engineers. Glass has been united with metal.

In the manufacture of high-voltage and communication type insulators, an important product at the local plant, the sealing of metal and glass has been accomplished in a manner quite satisfactory to Owens-Illinois officials. The joining process is a direct triumph for the local staff, of which W. Paul Zimmerman, manager, is the head.

Glass brick, now an important new development at the local plant, was moved here after three and one-half years of development work in the other Owens-Illinois Glass Company plants. The article, of pressed ware character, was transferred to Muncie because the Hemingray Division is known in its present organization as a capable unit in the manufacture of pressed glassware.

Men of many years' service labor daily at the intricate tasks in the manufacture of insulators and other Hemingray products. The experience and skill of the local unit brought immediately some further improvements and refreshments to the glass block.

Recently a method by which the hot glass could be joined by metal in an airtight, heat and cold resistant joint was developed. Manufacture of hollow building blocks, and of insulators with pressed-in brass bushings or "thimbles" is under way.

The local organization foresees rapid strides in the manufacture of the blocks and of the new-type insulators. New machinery is being installed, and mass production is soon to become a reality.

The building blocks, hollow oblong cubes of thick glass, measure 8 inches in length, 5 inches in width by 4 inches in depth. Constructed in halves, they are welded together by means of metal alloy the content of which is veiled in secrecy.

Visitors to the recent World's Fair doubtless inspected the glass-block house constructed by the Owens-Illinois Company. Blocks used in this construction were of an earlier type. Those constructed here have benefited by the new welding process, considered the most practical ever brought into use.

A ready market has been found for all bricks that can be produced. They are used in the building of filling stations, dairies, drink bottling works, factories of all kinds, and other structures where broad expanses of window glass have been used in the past.

The walls constructed of the new blocks maintain an insulating value equal to eight inches of concrete, their makers claim. Heat and cold resistant, they nevertheless allow a great amount of light to enter through their surface. The light, when filtered through the strong, heavy glass, becomes soft, and glare is eliminated.

Let in Light, Shut Out Cold.

At present, the blocks are used to replace large glass areas and for ornamentation. Filling stations, soft drink establishments, hotel bars, a hundred types of buildings, have been constructed of the new blocks. When illuminated by vari-colored light, they reflect an unearthly beauty.

At present the local organization stress but little the aesthetic uses of the blocks. They are interested in the quantity production of low-priced glass blocks for use in great factories, the buildings of toil. They look into the future and see this product reducing lighting and heating costs because of its ability to let in light, but shut out cold. The beauty will follow.

The process by which the threaded brass bushings are sealed in the core of insulators adds materially to the strength of the product. Brass bushings which had never been sealed permanently in insulators until the local plant performed the industrial miracle, expand and contract in a measure, with the pins, thus adding to the usefulness of the product.

But enough of this. Let us enter this birthplace of marvels. Let us see how these things are done!

Building Automatic Machines.

We follow Mr. Zimmerman, husky ex-Miami University football tackle, through the dim confines of court between the offices and the plant proper.

It is night, and at the lower end of the court the doors of the factory glow redly. We enter the doors and squirm through narrow passages where red-hot insulators and blocks ride conveyors to mysterious destinations.

Heat, dry, parching heat rushes out to meet us, swirls and eddies, and drives the cool night air from our lungs. It burns the skin, and the glare brings tears and smarting to eyes unused to these things.

We are to be taken to that portion of the room where the glass blocks are being made, Mr. Zimmerman says, and reminds us that this shop is merely the experimental laboratory. The quantity production comes within a few days upon the installation of giant automatic machines.

Coming at last to a corner where the yellow clay belly of a giant glass tank bulges, we see a man perched high on a platform. In his hand is a long pole, with which he fishes through a hole in the side of the tank.

Passes Through Tempering Oven.

Heat surges out upon him as he expertly winds a blob of cherry-red molten glass about the tip of his punty. He lifts it carefully over to a fellow workman, the skilled presser below, and as the liquid glass begins to pull away from the stick like well-done taffy, this workman snips off a portion with a pair of iron scissors. The portion falls into a steel mold, and the "gatherer" goes back to his fishing. The presser pulls his plunger lever expertly and slowly forming the glass brick half.

This forming by hand, an antiquated method, is in use at the plant because of the fact that each method is tried out in small quantity by the hand method, before mass production is started.

The heavy mold is opened by a third man and the glass form is carried a few steps to a tank of molten metal-spirit, where glowing red, it is deposited face downward in the metal. The alloy binds to the glass, and soon two halves are placed together in a power-press which serves to weld their edges together.

The press is opened and the finished block, hermetically sealed, is whisked away on conveyors to the annealing lehr, a long tempering oven in which the heat of the ware is reduced gradually as it passes through compartments in which the temperature ranges from near the melting point of the glass to ordinary level.

Insulators to 27 Foreign Countries.

At the end of the long oven, which is kept at the proper temperature through graduated insulation, the ware is sorted and made ready for packing.

Before it is packed, the mortar-bearing surfaces of the glass block are first carefully treated with a very special preparation. This preparation binds itself very tightly to the glass and it serves a dual purpose in that it aids the bricklayer in his task of laying the block in their final resting place and at the same time coats completely the welded surface of the block, the coating assisting the mortar in which the blocks are laid to bind itself tightly to the block, making the resulting wall a strong waterproof integral masonry unit, leaving only the decorated flat surfaces visible on the outer and inner sides of the finished wall.

Now, with the block safely on its way to some great building project, let us return to this fiery pit to witness the manufacture of insulators that are shipped to twenty-seven foreign countries, as well as to all parts of the United States.

Here automatic machines bring the glass from the tanks and drop the exact amount into revolving molds. The molds and their molten charge move beneath a pressing head which sinks a threaded core into the center of the cooling insulator. A few feet farther and the die is reversed from its position by a screw which drops to catch the die and screw it from the glass, completing a finished glass threaded insulator.

One moves on to a similar automatic machine where brass bushings are fed to a plunger which dips with monotonous regularity to deposit its brass thimble in the hot center of the glass. The brass heats immediately and becomes as red as the glass.

Tested to Bring Out Any Flaws.

The insulators are conveyed to the annealing lehr for final tempering. At the other end they are sorted and packed for shipping.

Constant watch is kept upon the finished ware by a staff of trained men whose business it is to detect the slightest flaw in block or insulator.

Fours tests of heat shock are applied to ware to bring out flaws in glass quality. Three mechanical tests, including straight tension pull, expansion test, and standard mechanical shock test, are applied.

Samples of the finished ware are split and sawed from every angle and the fragments studied in the purple mirror of a polariscope. In this testing machine good-quality glass, free from strain and other flaws, shows somber blends of blue, orange and red against the purplish surface of the polariscope plate. Glass wherein strain and defects occur shows a wild rainbow of vivid gypsy colors. Instead of somber blends of of blue and red and orange wild streaks of yellow and crimson and green occur.

These defects brought about by glass temperature or quality or a half-dozen other causes, are immediately remedied. Tests are made each thirty-minutes through the day and night.

Proud of Skilled Handicraft.

A wall of the new-type building blocks has been constructed in the plant yard. Soft orange and blue lights are hidden inside. The wall is a thing of beauty, and it is not difficult to imagine a dwelling house of the future a comfortable residence, yet a thing of beauty.

It is with pardonable pride that the plant manager points out specimens of the handicraft of his skilled workmen. He displays a sample of brass or tool steel or cast iron joined with glass, a thing once thought impossible in the glass industry.

With pride he handles a finished brick ready for shipment. Sturdy, substantial, it will stand unbelievable strain in great buildings. Two two-pound halves of a glass building block, joined with a splash of metal which looks like common solder, the finished block represents years of patient experiment months of patient labor. Was it worth it? Mr. Zimmerman thinks so.

Keywords:Hemingray : Owens-Illinois Glass Company
Researcher notes:Apparently this is early work of sportswriter Bob Barnet. Additional info on the author may be found here:
Supplemental information: 
Researcher:Roger Lucas / Bob Stahr
Date completed:August 12, 2009 by: Bob Stahr;