The Town Bell Rang

 

Two men sat in the lobby of a hotel in the early summer of 1887. Both were businessmen, both were from out of town, both in Bowling Green, Ohio for the same reason – looking for a site to locate a new factory. 

But they were not competitors. One had an option on some old rolling mill equipment down on the Ohio River that he wanted to re-locate and operate in Bowling Green. The other was from upstate New York. His company’s glass factory for making kerosene cans had burned down, and he was looking for a place to start a branch operation somewhere there was a cheap source of fuel.

And that is what Bowling Green had. The gas boom had hit the Midwest.  Towns lucky enough to be located over natural gas pockets were competing with each other, trying to induce companies to build factories that would turn their backwater burgs into thriving industrialized cities. And the inducements could be tempting. Free land, free gas, low taxes, and cash were all on the bargaining table.

It was the classic win-win situation. The city fathers could give the energy-intensive factories what they were looking for - cheap fuel and incentives. In turn, the factories would employ workers, hundreds of them. The job opportunities would attract people to the town. The newly hired workers would need a place to live, and, with their new jobs, they could afford to buy a house close enough to the factory to walk to work. The land and homes would be purchased from the local land developers, making them rich. Since the land developers were also the city fathers, the circle was complete and everyone was happy.

The only problem was the up-front expense for the incentives. The city fathers were not interested in shelling out money from their own pockets for the free land or the cash inducements. So they turned to the obvious source – the public coffers. This was not entirely unethical, as the additional jobs, homes and factories would result in more taxes being collected, along with increased business for the local merchants.

The plan worked in theory, but not always in practice. The Bowling Green city fathers were having problems floating a bond to raise the money to buy land for new factories. The new bond would raise property taxes, and thus landowners were against it, those without property were for it. The result was a standoff.

Each of the two businessmen who were staying at the local hotel had made his case to the committee of councilmen. Each been told that the request would be taken under advisement, that the committee would get back with them later.  And both men were still waiting. 

As the two sat in the lobby waiting and commiserating, the town bell rang. One said to the other, hopefully: “Mr. Giles, maybe that means my case is to be acted upon.” The other replied “Sir, I have been in Bowling Green for a week, and that sound has become very familiar to me. You likely will hear it many times before they decide anything on your case.”

A week later, Mr. Frank C. Ball of Buffalo, New York had indeed become familiar with the sound of the town bell. So, when a telegram was delivered, inviting him to consider Muncie, Indiana before making a decision, he seized the opportunity. And the rest is history.  

Frank and his four brothers built their glass factory in Muncie. They planned for it to be a branch operation, intending to return home to Buffalo when it was done.  But the brothers, who were all single at the time, met and fell in love with local women. They settled in Muncie after marriage, and it soon became the center of their company. The Buffalo operations were eventually closed and Muncie became the fruit jar capitol of the world.

And whatever happened to the other man in the hotel lobby?  The rolling mill went bankrupt before it became operational.  John S. Giles bought the equipment of the closed Crystal City Glass Co. in Bowling Green and moved it to Redkey, Indiana.  He brought in H. H. Clough and formed the Giles-Clough Co.  In 1897, William Buttler bought out Giles’ share, and the company was renamed after its new hometown, becoming the Redkey Glass Co. 

Giles-Clough and Redkey were both competitors of Ball Brothers in the fruit jar business, making the Fruitkeeper GCCo and the Redkey Mason, among others. Ball managed to survive the gas bust, but Redkey Glass did not.  Following a fire in April 1902, it was decided that the failing gas supply did not warrant rebuilding the plant, and the glass-making equipment was sold off.

This version of the Bowling Green hotel lobby incident is taken from Frank C. Ball’s Memoirs.  John S. Giles is another interesting figure in glass history, and deserves a story of his own.

 

Written by Richard H. Cole, Jr.

With thanks to Joe Terry

© 2003 Minnetrista Cultural Center

First Published in the March 2003 Glass Chatter