I really appreciate the history of the Indiana Glass Company provided by The Museum of Glass in West Virginia (and Tom Felt, Monograph #69) and Craig Schenning in his great book about Indiana Glass from Schiffer Publishing. As well as the folks at www.carnivalheaven.com. While I cannot 100% guarantee my memories of all the facts, recited below, I think my memory is pretty good, and hope that these random notes add some texture and detail to that great company and period.
My dad, Wilbur C. Hoover, lived from 1912 to 1997. He was born and raised in Anderson, Indiana, where I also grew up. His father Clarence was a Church of the Brethren minister, General Motors factory worker until he retired in 1948, and weekend farmer. My dad started selling candy bars at the GM (Delco-Remy division) factory gate when he was 12. He saved enough money to pay for college in the depression and give his parents $10,000 for raising him.
After careers in the wholesale and retail grocery businesses, in 1959 he joined Indiana (as he always called it) as their salesman for the state of Indiana, working for George Morton. He achieved his sales quota for the year in the first month, and was soon named Sales Manager, and later VP-Sales and perhaps later VP of Marketing. (In those days, most companies considered sales and marketing inseparable – this rarely happens these days, perhaps hurting the companies.) He continued in that role until his retirement in 1978 or 1979. I sat raptured at his nightly dinner table discussions of Indiana and what they were achieving. This (coupled with my mother’s love of stores) led to my lifelong interest in business and my own eventual entrepreneurship.
Soon after assuming this management role, dad learned that Indiana was borrowing from the bank to make its shrunken payroll, and not in as good a shape as he had assumed. The company had made the headlamp lenses for General Motors in the 1920s, but lost out when Corning and GM created the sealed beam headlight. While Indiana continued to make replacement parts for GM, they turned to their old catalog of consumer glassware, some patterns and molds dating from the 19th century, and tried to make the most of it. (You can find a ton of Indiana Glass products on eBay.)
In the glory days, when GM’s big Guide Lamp division in Anderson was a big customer, Indiana management used to take the Guide leaders to Cincinnati, where they boarded a riverboat to Louisville, to party and then attend the Kentucky Derby, where Indiana had a box. In my dad’s era, Indiana retained the box. He and my mother took his best customers to the box, but my horse-loving big sister and I got to attend something like 13 Derbies, always sitting in the cheap seats, never the box!
At some point before this, I think possibly as early as the great depression, Indiana became entangled with Ohio interests, including the Lancaster Glass Company, which made things from bus taillights to television tubes. Their accountants, the Gerlach family of Columbus, Ohio, took stock in payment for their services, and by the time my father arrived the Gerlachs had taken control of several small companies like Indiana, mostly in the housewares industry.
In 1961, patriarch John J. Gerlach and his son, John B. “Bernie” Gerlach, consolidated these firms into Lancaster Colony Corporation. Bernie was my dad’s mentor and a hero. Today John B. “Jay” Gerlach, Jr., the 3rd generation, still serves as Executive Chairman of the Board and controls over 8 million shares. The company has gone on to greater achievements, doing over $1 billion in annual revenues in 2018. In the process, Lancaster Colony morphed away from the competitive housewares industry into a food company, led by their Marzetti’s salad dressing line. The Gerlach’s have been very generous to the Ohio State University.
Also in senior management at Lancaster was Robert K. Fox, who my dad always called “Dr. Fox.” He was not active in the day-to-day management of Indiana while my dad was there. His son (I assume) Robert L. Fox continues to serve on the Lancaster Colony Board, and controls over 1 million shares.
Lancaster’s other housewares activities included Pretty Products (auto floormats for all the major car makers, and a smaller competitor to Rubbermaid), Enterprise Aluminum of Coshocton, Ohio (pots and pans, including for Sears as a I recall), Barr Rubber (manufactured superballs for the marketing company which owned the idea, as well as other sporting goods), and candle companies, prior to later buying Fostoria and Bartlett-Collins in the glass industry. The best history of Lancaster Colony can be found here. In 1969, Lancaster Colony went public through an Initial Public Offering (IPO), as shown in the prospectus:
I do not think my father’s salary was ever very high, but Bernie Gerlach made sure he got stock options. In the IPO prospectus, my father’s, mother’s, and my names show up as selling shareholders – the proceeds of my 400 shares of stock ($8,000) going toward my college tuition at the University of Chicago later that fall. My dad’s options ensured that my mother was comfortable in the 15 years she outlived him (she lived to be 97).
Back to Indiana – my dad was always a great believer in its products. He loved selling glassware and believed that it was an affordable way for anyone to add some sparkle to their table or home. When he joined the company, it had numerous sales representatives around the US. But all these reps represented several product lines. My dad met with each of them and said, “You can either go to work full time for Indiana and drop your other lines, or I will find someone who will.” This was not an ultimatum, as in many cases Indiana was not an important line for them. Most did not think you could make a living just selling the “puny” Indiana line, but dad thought different.
I believe at the peak he may have had as many as 40 people making a living full-time selling Indiana Glass, but certainly at least 20. I remember my mom complaining to him about the fact that several of his men made more money than he did – he believed in sales incentives! At one time, he had all the men’s wives call him at 9AM Monday morning, and if their husband was out of the house and on the road, he’d send them $10 or something like that. It was a man’s world selling products, even those for women, though his long-time assistant Barbara Pittenger was critical to the company’s success.
He took Indiana from one trade show a year (the Atlantic City gift show) to something like 100, many of which he worked himself. I hung out at the booths many times, especially at the giant Housewares Show which took place twice a year at McCormick Place in Chicago. He always ran show specials.
As a child of the 60s, I would ask, “What good are you doing by selling glass?” And he would answer that he and his men had taken Indiana from about 100 Dunkirk workers to something like 500. I believe they went from about $3 million in sales to about $60 million during his tenure. Indiana Glass rose to be one of the 5 largest players in the US consumer glass tableware industry.
He would drive his car to any customer or meeting in a day’s drive – roughly St. Louis to Milwaukee to Cleveland to Nashville – and fly elsewhere. He said he drove 100,000 miles a year and flew another 100,000, though those numbers seem a bit high. I spent many many evenings awaiting his arrival on redeye TWA flights from the coasts or Eastern or Delta north and south at Indianapolis’ Weir Cook Airport, where I began my lifelong interest in the airline industry (I own thousands of airline timetables and schedules, now relics of the pre-online past).
The ruby glass was the most expensive to produce, because of the mineral required to create the great red color. They also moved a ton of milk glass!
Dad would wax poetic about each product and line, using the item numbers, none of which I remember. But our house was full of the items shown in the old Indiana catalogs, and seen on eBay and in books. He was known as WC to everyone in the industry, and competitors from Westmoreland Glass and the others would send us the best Christmas gifts of their cool glassware.
Dad was instrumental in creating “Glass Days” in Dunkirk and spoke at the first one. About the same time, he created an outlet store for overstock and seconds, run by Charlie Stout. As a teen, I worked hard on the opening weekend, carrying punchbowl sets and snack sets to the cars of customers, developing my lifelong love of retailing, and making me aware that I loved serving people.
He prided himself on being able to tell where you were from by the second or third sentence you uttered, before American dialects became increasingly similar. He loved waiting on customers and meeting people. (He and my mother were both children of Church of the Brethren ministers.)
His best customers were big retailers like Kmart, Home Interiors of Dallas, big commercial wholesale hotel-and-restaurant distributors like Edward Don of Chicago, A&W Root Beer for whom they made all the glass mugs, and Dog N Suds (a smaller A&W competitor). Indiana also had thousands of small customers, especially florists – Indiana had a deal with FTD, the Florists Telegraph Delivery system, long before 1-800-flowers. Dad sold vases to David Letterman’s parents, florists in Indianapolis.
Indiana had offices in major cities across the country, including in the Toy Building near the Flatiron in New York (I just saw it is now converted into apartments, a big one renting for over $30,000 a month), the Brack Shops in downtown Los Angeles, and my favorite, the Merchandise Mart in Chicago, where ex-Chicago Bear Bill Steinkemper ran the office.
Indiana also made glassware for the Colony Brand, sold through Lancaster-Colony’s New York-based importer Pitman-Dreitzer, run by Al Dreitzer. They had exclusive rights to call on department store and high-end jewelry stores and tabletop stores, alongside lines like Wedgewood and Waterford. I don’t think dad was crazy about that, as he seemed irritated when I continually asked why Indiana was not in the great stores I loved like Marshall Field’s, Macy’s, and Indianapolis’ own LS Ayres.
Some of the other key people in his era were as follows:
George Morton was his first boss, and really ran Indiana. He may have married into the Merry family who historically owned the company. I remember George had a black Cadillac, and once when I rode in the backseat with him, he gave me a dollar for riding with him. He also had a suite at the posh Whitehall Hotel on Chicago’s northside. After he retired from Indiana, George owned the main grocery store in Monterey, California.
Frank Batsch was also a key executive, and I am more certain he was part of the Merry family.
Arthur Harshman was their designer and quite an artist. I think he designed stained glass windows for churches as a hobby.
Dad’s top salesmen included Lowell Wilson of Richmond, Indiana (a lifelong friend), Ed Lumpkin of Atlanta then Dallas who succeeded my dad, Milton Israel in Philly, Charlie Kalen in California, Joe Gassaway in New York city, and many others. Jim Hooffstetter was the finance guy (“controller” or “comptroller”) but then became President of Indiana and was my dad’s boss and among his best friends for all the years they worked together.
Tiara Exclusives, started in 1970, may have been Jim’s idea, though my dad and Ron Teal who worked for them were also instrumental. Ron ran it and made it a big success: at its peak, I believe they had over 10,000 women using a Tupperware-type party approach. I think they learned much from top customer Home Interiors of Dallas, founded by Mary Crowley – her son Don Carter later owned the Dallas Mavericks. My dad thought the world of both of them. Their company was highly profitable in those days.
Indiana Glass Management often had lunch at the famous but quirky Shambarger’s Restaurant in nearby Redkey, and later bought it. They took customers there for excellent dinners.
In most of this era, Dunkirk, a small stop on the Pennsylvania Railroad, was dominated by Indiana and the glass container plant in town, which has changed hands and names but during most of that era was owned by Armstrong Cork.
I always loved going to work with dad. Each day, he drove 40 miles each way to work, wanting to keep living in Anderson, where most of his friends were and we went to school. He had all the stoplights timed and used the drive to prepare for the day on the way to work and then to recap it in his mind on the way home. He also made to-do notes every Sunday morning in church, at the Anderson Church of the Brethren, where my parents spent their lives, money, and energy. (He sang in a gospel quartet, the Harmoneers, on Sunday morning Anderson WHBU radio in the 1940s!) The factory was of course hot. They used to give tours but either accidents or the insurance company made them stop. Because it took so long to change out molds on the machines, including “lehrs,” which needed to be cooled and reheated, they ran huge batches at a time. Years’ worth of some patterns were piled up in giant warehouses – Dunkirk land was cheap!
At one point, they acquired the Bischoff Glass company of West Virginia, which made Blenko-like colored ware – I loved it! They moved some of the glassblowers from West Virginia to Indiana, but they could not find young people willing to pick up the art from the old guys, and eventually gave up. According to my dad, at that point they were the only plant in the country that made both pressed and hand-blown glassware. We had beautiful paperweights all over the house!
Glass is a magical substance, ancient, transparent, and made from the most common mineral on earth – quartz. It also melts – very slowly – at room temperature: look at the windows in medieval churches, which are thicker at the bottom. When mom and dad took us kids to Europe in 1967, we had to visit the Murano glassblowers near Venice.
When Asian competitors entered the US, my dad got a kick out of the fact they had copied an Indiana piece, and in every one the bubble (natural flaw) was in the same place! He also got a kick out of seeing their carnival (“depression”) glass in antique stores marked as antiques, when he knew they were recently produced. According to dad, they lost the method for making the iridescent glass after the depression, when it was considered cheap, and used other methods to imitate it during his tenure. I still love it and “goofus” glass!
In the late 1970s, Lancaster tried to acquire the larger Federal Glass company to supplement Indiana’s business. Despite the fact that the two companies combined would still be far smaller than giant Anchor-Hocking and substantial competitor Libbey Glass, the Federal Trade Commission fought the merger, dragging things out. After finally getting FTC approval, the labor union at Federal would not accept the contract changes required to compete with rising foreign competition, so Lancaster Colony decided not to buy them. Federal closed, costing over 1500 jobs. The full story is told in this good book.
Indiana Glass Company is now long gone, most of its facilities demolished. Watch a video about its demise here. But thousands of people, for over a century, produced a lot of glassware for hotels, restaurants, and homes across America. I will not forget those people and their histories!