Kokomo Opalescent Glass: Touring the Oldest Art Glass Factory in the U.S.

Factory tours are always fun. I love seeing how things are manufactured. Art glass is my favorite art medium. Combine the two, add a little history, and you’ve got a real winner. The Kokomo Opalescent Glass factory tour takes you through the entire process of making art glass, from raw materials to the finished product.

History of Kokomo Opalescent Glass

The tour begins with a short history of the company. Kokomo Opalescent Glass has been in business since 1888, shortly after natural gas was discovered in the area. Natural gas is used to fire the furnaces used in glass making. Sand, a main component in glass making, was readily available in the Midwest. With both natural gas and sand plentiful, glass manufacturing was a natural fit for Kokomo.

When Charles Edward Henry, a French-born glass chemist based in New York, learned of the Kokomo gas boom, he built the Opalescent Glass Works factory. Mr. Henry lost the factory due to personal problems, and it was purchased by three local businessmen. The families of those three men kept the company, whose named was changed to Kokomo Opalescent Glass, running until 2009, when John O’Donnell, current CEO, bought interest in the company. The president, Richard Elliott, is the fourth generation descendant of Peter E. Hoss, one of the three businessmen.

Fun Fact: Charles Edward Henry had connections with Louis Tiffany in New York. One of the first shipments of glass from Opalescent Glass Works went to Tiffany. In fact, in 1893 Tiffany bought 10,000 pounds of glass from the company, so many Tiffany works from that era are made from Kokomo glass.

John ODonnell
John O’Donnell, CEO, Kokomo Opalescent Glass

Red-hot furnace

Kokomo Opalescent Glass continues many of the same processes today as it has used since the company started over a hundred years ago.

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One of the first things you see on the tour is the intimidating 12-ton, red-hot furnace. The furnace runs at 2500 degrees Fahrenheit 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Workers load glass ingredients into handmade clay pots that are fitted into the furnace. Each of the pots holds a different color glass.

Kokomo Opalescent Glass furnace

Ladling the glass

When the glass is ready to be formed, staff members ladle out the melted substance, which at this point resembles orange taffy, no matter what color the finished product will be. The ladlers quickly move the substance to the table. By the time the it reaches the table, it has already cooled down from 2500 degrees to about 1700 degrees.

ladling glass

Another staff member mixes the substance on the table and then it pushes on a belt. The glass moves between two rollers, creating a one-eighth-inch thick sheet. Depending on the type of glass they’re making, one roller may have a texture on it, which creates a textured surface on the finished product. The glass takes a 45 minute journey along the belt, where it anneals. Glass must be annealed, that is cooled slowly, so that it doesn’t crack.

making glass

Cutting the glass

As the glass entered the cutting room, now cooled to about 150 degrees, we could see that the color of the glass was purple. Staff members cut the glass into 32-inch wide by varying length sheets and load them onto carts to be moved to the packing and shipping area.

trimming the glass

Hot glass studio

Besides making sheets of art glass for wholesale or retail sale, Kokomo Opalescent Glass makes finished glass products. In the factory’s hot glass studio you can watch glassblowers at work. Watching a glassblower is always fascinating. I love to watch them gather hot glass on the end of a pole, roll it, dip it into more hot glass, form it, and end up with a beautiful product. On the day we took the tour, glassblower John Wolfe was creating a ring holder to be sold in the retail shop.

glassblowing

 Making angels, beads and other things

Other Kokomo Opalescent Glass artisans create additional items for the retail shop, as well as commissioned items. On the day we visited, one artisan was working on a commissioned window for a customer in California. Another was making stained-glass angels.

Kokomo Opalescent Glass commissioned project

art glass angels

Kokomo Opalescent Glass also makes glass awards and trophies sandblasted with recipients’ names, as well as other personalized objects commissioned by organizations for special events.

We also watched as one of the staff artisans made glass beads. The company offers classes in bead making. Once you know how to make beads, you can come in for “torch time,” if you don’t have your own equipment.

making beads at Kokomo Opalescent Glass

Retail shop

Kokomo Opalescent Glass sells lots of unique items in their retail shop, The OP Shop, where you start and end the tour. What a great place to find one-of-a kind gifts for that person who has everything—or to treat yourself with a work of art.

The OP Shop

vase

The OP Shop Halloween items

You can also purchase glass and glass making supplies in The Op Shop. The Op Shop is open Monday through Friday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

If you take the Kokomo Opalescent Glass factory tour

Kokomo Opalescent Glass, located at 1310 S Market Street in Kokomo, Indiana, offers a public tour Monday through Friday at 10 a.m. General admission is $5; student admission is $2. Feet must be fully enclosed in thick-soled shoes (no open toes or clogs). Check the website for further tour requirements and guidelines.

Kokomo accomodations

We stayed at Courtyard Kokomo during our stay in Kokomo. Find the best Kokomo hotel deal, compare prices, and read what other travelers have to say at TripAdvisor.

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Disclosures: My visit to Kokomo Opalescent Glass was hosted by the Greater Kokomo Visitors Bureau and Kokomo Opalescent Glass. My admission was complimentary; however, any opinions expressed int his article are my own.
This article contains an affiliate link. If you book a hotel room through this link, I will receive a small commission at no additional cost to you.

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4 thoughts on “Kokomo Opalescent Glass: Touring the Oldest Art Glass Factory in the U.S.

  • October 7, 2016 at 2:55 pm
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    Beautiful glass work. As I recently toured Corning Glass, I was intrigued that this is the oldest glass factory. Cool stuff!

    Reply
    • October 7, 2016 at 3:15 pm
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      They really do have cool stuff, Charles. I had no idea before visiting that Kokomo, just two-and-a-half hours from where I live, is home to this treasure. Corning Glass is still on my bucket list.

      Reply
    • October 9, 2016 at 11:07 pm
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      Thanks, Susan!

      Reply

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