National Geographic : 1943 Jan
Glass "Goes to Town" severely criticized for making such a big planet for a few peewee creatures to rattle around on.' "Mr. Libbey just threw back his head and laughed, and laughed some more. 'Go ahead with it, Kadow,' he told me, and walked away. That's how he was. And I'm still here." Bottles and Bulbs Glass bottles and bulbs for electric lights are more closely related than the uses of the products indicate. Essentially, an incandes cent lamp is a wire inside a glass bottle. The "bottle" keeps the electric current from burning out the wire either because it encloses a vacuum wherein no oxygen is available, or inert gases which do not combine with the tungsten wire. Watching a machine making the bottles, or blanks, for electric-light bulbs engenders an awe akin to reading God's first utterance in Genesis, "Let there be light." Here glass helps bridge Nature's nightly blackout, and enables man to work, play, and travel any hour of the day. Comparable with the immortal words of Bell, "Mr. Watson, come here; I want you," and of Morse, "What hath God wrought," is a laconic notation in the Corning Glass Works archives: "We blew a bubble for a man named Edison." What a paradox that a nation which grew up successively on wicks burned in dishes of fat, tallow candles, oil lamps, and then flicker ing gas jets, now finds it troublesome to dim out its cities, highways, and shoreline even briefly for defense! Even tallow candles, now either archaic or arty, were not widely used until the century of our country's birth. Children of today take for granted that light will glow when they press a button. Stories of Lincoln reading by flickering pine logs, and of Calvin Coolidge taking the Presi dential oath of office by an oil lamp in his father's Vermont home, seem remote. Yet only a few years ago on a plane from Trinidad I met a kindly West Virginia glass manufacturer whose principal product was lamp chimneys. "Where do you sell them?" I asked. "Some to the hill folks," he said. "But our big volume goes to the East Side tenements of New York City." Such cultural lags are exceptional. Now, into massive tanks pour tons of precisely measured mix, which the alchemy of fire and machinery transmutes into hundreds of elec tric bulb blanks every minute. Operators have to watch 25 instruments; every half hour they must note automatic readings con stantly recorded on permanent sheets. Within 20 minutes of the time a ribbon of molten glass enters the machine, the bulb blanks are packed in trays for the racks 2,500 bulbs to a rack. For a few days each summer the Corning Glass Works plant at sequestered, elm shaded Wellsboro, Pennsylvania, turns to making enough Christmas-tree ornaments to supply practically the entire United States. Off the high-speed bulb machines they pour, ten times faster than a spectator can count (Plate VIII). In 1937 about 90 percent of all America's tree hangings came from Germany and Czechoslovakia. In 1940 Japan sold us nearly $117,000 worth. In Europe and Nip pon these were handmade with cheap labor. A small boy would be as thrilled to watch their machine-making as he is by the surprise tree from which they hang. A huge tank furnace roars as it "cooks" tens of tons of molten glass at one time. A yellow-white stream tapers out onto an end less belt-a moving ribbon three inches wide and 13,000 miles long. Compressed air spurting through apertures in the belt converts the glass into a series of red-hot globules. Swiftly these grow longer and begin to cool. Cup-shaped molds auto matically fall into position around them. A few more seconds and the glass in each mold is puffed and blown. After passing through the lengthy lehr, like soap bubbles on a frosted stream, decorating machines take over. Suggesting myriad fig ures in an incredibly big ballet, they march forward in ranks, halting here and there to jump, turn, glide, and turn handsprings as they are silvered inside, emptied out, then submerged in tanks of dyes. There are only a dozen or so shapes and five colors-red, blue, green, gold, and silver -but combinations of the designs and hues give the effect of amazing variety. Then comes the problem of storing the rain bow trinkets until Santa Claus rolls around. All over Tioga County barns and other build ings not needed for war bulge with millions of the cones, star lanterns, bells, red balls, and "diamonds." "Why, I Never Knew That!" Defying quantity production even by ma chines of such high precision is the clinical, or fever, thermometer. Making of this fa miliar glass product entails the most delicate and complex procedure I saw in the entire industry (Plate XV and pages 28, 29).