At first glance, this chunk of glass and seemingly unrelated photographs may seem to be a desperate attempt at curatorial show and tell. After all, the Castle Museum is closed and staff members do not have access to the Museum's files and research material. However, even if we had full access to our collection, these are exactly the objects and photographs that we would select to introduce the story of the Saginaw Plate Glass Company.
Chunks of glass were a common Saginaw "souvenir." They are sometimes referred to as "chunks of pot metal" - glass melted in a pot is referred to as pot metal.
"This company's plant is the only plate glass factory in Michigan and one of the very few plate glass factories located outside the Pittsburgh District," Annual Report of Michigan Bureau of Labor and Industrial Statistics, 1907
The Saginaw Plate Glass Company was located on West Michigan Avenue convenient to rail lines, the Tittabawasee River and coal mines. Incorporated in 1900, the business started production in 1902. By 1906, 300 men were employed on the site and they produced 6,500,000 cubic feet of glass.
In his history of Saginaw, James C. Mills notes, "A number of progressive business men of this city, desiring to utilize natural resources and give impetus to the growing prosperity of Saginaw Valley, conceived of the idea of locating a plate glass factory here."
Two major things are required in the production of glass - sand and heat. According to Michigan Bureau of Labor and Industrial Statistics reports, sand for the factory was shipped from Steiner, near Monroe. However, coal to fire the plant's furnaces was readily available from nearby Saginaw coal mines.
The glass produced by the Saginaw Plate Glass Company was shipped throughout the state and to Chicago. The Saginaw Case Company was a major customer. The quality of glass produced was so high that 75% was used in the production of mirrors.
The paneling and cabinets in Myer Brothers Jewelry Store were made by the Saginaw Show Case Company. All of the glass used in the cases and mirrors were manufactured by the Saginaw Plate Glass Company. The interior of Myer Brothers is preserved and on exhibit at the Castle Museum of Saginaw County History.
Salt production at the Saginaw Plate Glass Company
In 1906, the Saginaw Plate Glass company opened one of the most modern salt blocks in the country. The facility harnessed the excess heat from the furnaces used in producing glass to evaporate salt brine. The concept was very similar to one that had thrived during Saginaw's lumber boom - heat from the sawmill boilers was used to evaporate brine.
Eventually, the company started to utilize waste material from salt production and produced calcium chloride, bromine, magnesium chloride and other materials. In 1912, a separate company called the Saginaw Chemical Company formed.
In writing about the Saginaw Plate Glass Company, James C. Mills explained, by 1918, a good portion of the plants production was used in the automobiles. In the 1920s, the plant was sold and closed. After World War II, the former factory site was used as an airport, Barry Field.
Originally, equipment for the Saginaw Plate Glass Company was purchased in Pittsburgh. However, later machinery for glass and salt production was made in Saginaw by local companies.