While Corning, NY is a small town of 10,000, its long history of glass manufacture has put it on the world map. What better thing to do on a cold, rainy day that to visit the Museum of Glass there. The Corning glass company has been in existence since 1851 and has obviously changed its focus and product line over the years. While it is well known for Pyrex and Corelle cookware, its discovery of fiber optics really set its profits to soaring during the dot com boom in the late '90's. Today the company remains on the cutting edge manufacturing more than half of the glass used in liquid crystal displays.
But for the tourist much more interesting are the more than 45,000 glass objects, spanning 3,500 years of glassmaking history and samples of the finest pieces from all over the world. Some were conventional vases and dishes, but there were also pieces of furniture made of glass and art work made from tiny glass beads. The pieces were spectacular, but one can only wander around looking at display cases for so long.
The museum also had a demonstration on glass blowing and one on breaking glass. I finally understand the difference between annealed glass, tempered glass and safety glass.
In some ways Corning is a rust belt town that has struggled with Rust Belt issues typical of many northeastern towns. But because it is the headquarters of the glass company, the corporate types are highly motivated to keep their town on the map. In 1972 it suffered a calamitous flooding of the Chemung River, which decimated there the historic down town area. Rather than bull dozing the remains, they carefully worked to restore the historic storefronts to their previous grandeur. Many are made of local brick used as ornate decoration as well as for the walls themselves. Some still have Art Deco glass fronts. A few items from the original glass factory have also been retained including the 150 foot casting tower which was used to make the glass for thermometers. A molten lump of glass was quickly hauled to the top and gravity stretched the piece, which was cut into convenient, mouth sized pieces. Who would have guessed that was how this tricky job was done.
The final speaker in our program was a retired librarian from the Corning Museum of Glass who spoke about the flood of 1972 and the tremendous damage it did to an extensive and rare collection of books, pamphlets, and papers about the field of glass. At the museum the waters came higher than she was tall and even the books that were not immediately damaged by the water began to grow mold. She described going into an office and wondering where the desk had gone, shutting the door, and hearing a tremendous crash as the desk, which had been stuck to the ceiling with mud, fell down again. The tactic that worked the best for book reclamation was to store and freeze as many as possible. After things had calmed down a bit, they used a variety of techniques to dry them out again. It took about eight years to restore the collection that they had saved by freezing it. She had given the presentation we heard today to countless groups since 1972 since libraries suffer from flood and the water used to put out fires all over the world. As she talked we thought about the poor residents of Binghamton whose flood we drove through the beginning of the week. It seems unlikely that most of those poor folks will have the monetary assistance of the insurance company to help them recover from disaster as the librarian did here in Corning.