Today, the glass factory remains the oldest locally-owned company in the city, according to CEO John O’Donnell.
It’s also the oldest art glass manufacturer in the nation.
Stained Glass Association of America members took turns touring the factory Wednesday. They first saw sheet glass being made.
They watched men, soaked in sweat, scooping glass from furnace pots with their ladles and moving it quickly to the mixing table. There, the molten glass was hand mixed and sent through rollers that contain one of 17 textures.
It then spent 30 minutes in an annealing oven, where it was slowly cooled. Then, they watched men hand cut it and pack it to be shipped.
Tour guide David Riggs said it’s a labor-intensive process.
The ladles the ladle men carry weigh upward of 100 pounds when they’re full of glass.
“It’s very taxing,” he said.
It’s also very hot. When it’s 90 degrees outside, it’s more than 150 degrees in the factory near the furnaces.
The whole process captivated Junji Miwa, who works for a glass distributor in Japan.
His company, Jujo, has been doing business with Kokomo Opalescent Glass for more than 30 years. But Wednesday was the first time he’d seen their work up close.
“I was really fascinated by the old style of making glass,” he said. “I told my customers I would love to work here.”
International companies and individuals make up a substantial portion of the Kokomo factory’s customer base.
Riggs said 40 percent of its business is conducted with people outside of the United States.
He’s met people from around the world while giving tours. He rattled off a list of countries Wednesday: Germany, Korea, Iran, Uruguay, England, Australia, France, Italy, Russia, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Japan, Panama and Cuba. And that’s just the countries he’s seen represented in the past two years.