Edward Drummond Libbey

Edward Drummond Libbey, son of William L. and Julia M. (Miller) Libbey was born April 17, 1854, in Chelsea, Massachusetts. As a youth he attended public schools in Boston and later enrolled in Boston University. In 1874, Edward's father gave him an interest in his Cambridge, Massachusetts glass business. After the elder Libbey's death in 1883, Edward became owner of the New England Glass Company. High costs for fuel, raw materials and marketing, as well as labor problems, prompted Libbey to look for a new location. The discovery of natural gas in Northwest Ohio, a network of railroad and steamship lines, and local deposits of high quality sandstone made Toledo an ideal site. Libbey responded to advertisements placed by the Toledo Businessmen's Committee in the Boston area newspapers and in 1888 signed a contract to move his company west.[John Killits, Toledo and Lucas County, Ohio, 1623-1923, vol. 3 (Toledo: S.J. Clarke Publishing Co., 1923), p.5, and Tana Mosier Porter, Toledo Profile (Toledo: Toledo Sesquicentennial Commission, 1987), pp.52-53].

In 1888, the business incorporated as the Libbey Glass Company.Killits, vol. 3, 5. Toledo investors helped purchase a four-acre site on Buckeye Street for the factory as well as fifty building lots for glass workers. Libbey's sister, Sarah Miller Libbey (Sally) and Mrs. William S. Walbridge, provided additional funds to move the plant to Toledo.(Toledo Blade, 30 September 1952). The first few years proved difficult and Libbey borrowed heavily to keep the business afloat. But when Michael J. Owens joined the company he developed an automatic bulb making machine that helped Libbey prosper. He also developed machinery to replace the costly hand-blown method of producing glass bottles. Technology and modernization revolutionized the glass business. In 1893, Libbey constructed a glass factory at the Chicago World's Fair where thousands of visitors bought his popular cut-glass products. In addition, glass sheets manufactured in a continuous flow and the 1930s innovation of practical glass threads, known as fiberglass, increased profits for Libbey Glass.[Morgan Barclay and Charles N. Glaab, Toledo: A Gateway to the Great Lakes (Tulsa: Continental Heritage Press, 1982), pp.54-57, and Porter, pp.53-54].

Libbey expanded his business pursuits in 1899 when he helped finance the Owens Bottle Machine Company. Six years later he became president of the Owens European Bottle Machine Company. He organized and served as president of the Libbey-Owens Sheet Glass Company. In 1929 the Owens Bottle Machine Company merged with the Illinois Glass Company to become Owens-Illinois Glass Company. The following year, Libbey-Owens Glass Company combined with the Edward Ford Plate Glass Company to create the Libbey-Owens-Ford Glass Company. The original Libbey Glass Company became a division of Owens-Illinois and Owens-Corning Fiberglas was founded in 1938. Toledo gained the title of "Glass Capital of the World."(Barclay and Glaab, pp.57-59).

Libbey's social interests centered on fine art and on April 18, 1901 he and several associates established the Toledo Museum of Art, the city's main cultural attraction and now one of the finest institutions of its kind in the world. The museum opened in a store room on Madison Avenue and during its early years, Libbey and his wife contributed money, paintings and their prestige to its growth. They donated land at Monroe Street and Scottwood where a new museum building opened in 1912. Among its many public programs, the museum emphasized art education and music study for the masses.[John Killits, Toledo and Lucas County, Ohio, 1623-1923, vol. 1 (Toledo: S.J. Publishing Company, 1923), p.517 and Porter, p.78]. Libbey acted as museum president and continued to aid the institution financially. He also organized an art society in Toledo. In his will, Libbey provided two million dollars to construct a school of design and a concert hall, additions to the museum. His wife initiated the project in 1930, which helped to employ approximately 2,500 men during the early years of the Great Depression. The Peristyle opened on January 10, 1933 with a concert by the Philadelphia Symphony orchestra.(Toledo Blade, 13 November 1925 and Porter, p.64 and Porter, pp.84-86).

Libbey participated in other Toledo activities. He owned large tracts of local real estate, notably the Adams Street property. Edward Drummond Libbey high school opened in the south end of the city in 1923. Libbey gained an international reputation for his artistic appreciation and promotion of education. On July 26, 1922, King Albert of Belgium conferred upon Libbey the Belgian Order of the Crown with the rank of Commander in recognition of his accomplishments.(Killits, vol. 3, p.7).

Edward Drummond Libbey died of pneumonia in November 1925 at the age of 72. His wife, Florence Scott Libbey, passed away on March 12, 1959. Edward Drummond Libbey's corporations and interests in Toledo are the reason that this area is still called the "Glass City" today.(Toledo Blade, 13 November 1925).


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