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From Corning Glass Works to Corning Inc.

From the last-quarter of the 19th century to the first half of the 20th century, Corning, the so-called "Crystal City," shined brightly in New York's Southern Tier. Located about 15 miles from the Pennsylvania border on the Chemung River, this mill-rich town presented an ideal -- and affordable -- new home for the Brooklyn Flint Glass Company, which was renamed the Corning Glass Works. Even if you've never heard of Corning, the name CorningWare will almost certainly ring a bell. Likewise, Steuben -- named after the county in which Corning sits -- a legendary manufacturer whose closure in 2011 marked the end of 109 years of creating world-class decorative glassware. The success of the Corning Glass Works developed Corning's reputation for glass and crystal manufacturing, and by 1905, the town claimed 15 glass-cutting shops separate from the Corning Glass Works, which together employed 2,500 glass blowers, cutters and engravers. The Erie, Corning-Blossburg and DL&W railroads passed through Corning, delivering raw materials and exporting finished glassware products; 12,000 trains traveled through Corning in 1891 alone.

Corning Glass Works Corning, NY Post Card

"Corning Glass Works, Corning, N. Y." by Boston Public Library is licensed under CC BY 2.0

As time marched on, crystal, always a luxury, fell out of favor due to its incompatibility with the post-WWII lifestyle. By maintaining relevancy in changing times, however, Corning Glass Works, now Corning Inc., has evaded the post-industrial demise that befell the towns of nearby Central New York, whose names are telling of their erstwhile glory, including Gloversville, Tannersville and Clark Mills. In the process of perfecting crystal production, the masterworkers at Corning learned about the science of glass and set their sites beyond crystal almost from the beginning.

The timeline of Corning Inc. throughout the 20th century is a history of the technological developments that defined the modern American lifestyle at every turn. In 1879, Corning created the glass encasements for Thomas Edison's lightbulbs, using equipment that would evolve to produce bulbs that powered radios. In 1908, Dr. Eugene Sullivan moved to Corning and developed the research and development department there; it was one of the first industrial R&D units in the country, a practice that now seems like a foregone conclusion. In 1908, Corning developed heat-resistant glassware. In 1913, they successfully tested this glass in a kitchen oven, and in 1915 began marketing the product we now know as PYREX. In 1939, Corning supplied the cathode ray tube that powered RCA's demo television at the World's Fair, and in 1948 began to produce the screens for the wholesale television market. Heat-resistant windows were installed in spacecraft that launched in 1961. In the 1980s, Corning began to experiment with glass that could provide the high-clarity and density of the now-ubiquitous LCD screens. Corning Inc. has also made significant contributions to the fields of medicine, astronomy and biology. Perhaps most critical to the 21st-century perpetuity of Corning Inc., is a development that originated in 1970. Three Corning scientists developed optical fiber that could transmit laser light signals across long distances without diminishing the light's strength. The 2007 invention of ClearCurve allowed this technology to function even when routed through the twists and turns of high-rise buildings. Fiber optics may well be powering the internet by which you're reading this article.

Corning Inc. expressed their vision of what the future of glass technology could mean for our everyday lives. The 2011 video, "A Day Made of Glass," has over 21 million YouTube views:

In 2012, a follow-up video, "A Day Made of Glass 2," was released:

The Corning story, from lightbulbs to telescopes and beyond, is huge and hugely important. Leaders in NYSOM's Innovate category, we will continue to share Corning's history and current developments as they unfold.
Resources to check out: 

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