Beautiful glass has an almost inexplicable magical quality whether it’s a bowl, a sculpture, or a window. The way glass seems to capture the sun holds our attention. Making it though is a dangerous, energy-intensive process. Commercial glass manufacturing is especially so. The furnaces burn unceasingly, maintaining a searing heat day in and day out. When natural gas was discovered in east-central Indiana, glass-makers from all over the country took note. Throughout the region, glass factories of all kinds and sizes opened, making plate glass in Kokomo and Elwood, window glass in Hartford City, kitchen and dining wares in Greentown and Kokomo, and decorative items in dozens of small shops. Among them was Kokomo Opalescent Glass.
Charles Henry migrated to America from France in 1880. He started a small stained glass company in New York. Hearing about the Indiana gas boom, he visited Kokomo and met with local officials. With their offer of free land and free gas, he quickly agreed to relocate. The Opalescent Glass Works opened in 1888 producing large sheets of colored glass that were sold to makers of stained glass windows and furnishings.
One of the first shipments of sheet glass went to the internationally renowned stained glass artist Louis Comfort Tiffany. Tiffany had a particular liking for the colors and textures they produced and remained a customer until the mid-1890s. In 1889, Henry shipped a selection of glass sheets to Europe for the Paris Exposition, where he received a gold medal and thousands of dollars in new orders.
In 1891, the business was taken over by three local men, who proved to be better business managers than Henry. They built a company with an international clientele. Glass from Kokomo appeared in windows and art objects around the globe - in buildings from the Vatican to Disneyworld. After the natural gas wells dried up, they found new sources of energy, including natural gas imported by pipeline from other areas. Today’s Kokomo Glass, the oldest manufacturer of art glass in the world, still makes stained glass in the same colors and textures and with the same techniques as it did a hundred years ago.
Along with its famous stained glass, Kokomo Opalescent Glass now offers stained and blown glass artwork, materials and tools, classes for budding artists, and tours of the factory.