Monday, August 10, 2015

Pilkington Glass' Ottawa, IL, Location

Bird's Eye View
While studying a satellite image of the sand mines west of Ottawa, I noticed some industrial buildings down by the river. Google showed that they belong to Pilkington North America. The float process of manufacturing flat glass was invented in the 1950s at the headquarters of Pilkington in St. Helens, United Kingdom.

This Ottawa location is advantageous for making glass because of its close proximity to the major ingredients of glass --- pure silica sand (60% of a batch), limestone and dolomite. And to coal to provide the 1500-degree C heat needed to melt those ingredients. (Natural gas is used now.) For an overview of the float process of manufacturing flat glass, the interval from about 1:00 to 5:00 of a video is interesting. I also watched Chapter 1 and Chapter 2 of a series of four videos for better views of the plant equipment. A video of the Watson Street plant shows a process before float glass was invented. (I watched just a little of this video. It was very redundant.)

According to a lady giving me a tour the the 20th century part of the La Salle County Museum, this plant was originally owned by Libbey-Owens-Ford and had over a 1000 employees making glass for the automotive industry. When Pilkington bought the plant and the LOF brand in 1986, they converted it to make "architectural glass," that is, glass for buildings. Because of automation, the lady said Pilkington reduced the number of employees to 55 people. When Nippon Sheet Glass (NSG) bought Pilkington in June 2006, the LOF name was abandoned to rebrand globally under the Pilkington name. (Wikipedia and museum attendent)

Update: Michael Matalis posted about tornadoes hitting Ottawa and Naplate. I now noticed the Bear Den that I ate in on a railfanning trip is on the edge of that town in spite of its US Mail address. But the reason for the update is to record some comments made about the glass factory.
Harold J. Krewer Pilkington still gets inbound material, mostly sand. No finished glass has moved by rail for decades. The plant makes thermal pane glass for window makers like Pella and Andersen.

Harold J. Krewer Back when it was Libby-Owens-Ford, there were TWO plants in Naplate, Plants 5 and 7, side-by-side. They made almost all the automobile windshields for GM there. Employed almost 2,000. Today maybe 350 work at the current facility.

Karold J. Krewer commented on the above posting
This is a Rock Island map of the trackage in Naplate and the glass plant back in the 70s. RI and BN jointly served this line:


  1. My dad Arlis Hicks worked at LOF until he had his heart attack in 1988 He worked in the warehouse at the end.

  2. My husband Bob Pagoria and I both worked there also as Low E Technicians and my husband new you your father Arlis. My husband passed away in 2014. 🌹🌈🙏

  3. My father LuVerne McCallister "Mac" worked at LOF from 1956-1989. When he retired, he was Superintendent of Glass Making in Plant 5, meaning he was in charge of the entire operation from the Batch House to the Wareroom. In the 1970s, he was in charge of the changeover from the old "Grinding and Polishing" method to the float glass production used today.