More Than Meets The Eye: Part 2: The Company

PPG-Place-Pittsburgh.jpg

More Than Meets The Eye: Part 2: The Company

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May 18, 2016Nathan Troxell

Before the optical monomers and coatings buiness of PPG was redefining standards for spectacle lenses, PPG Industries was growing into a global powerhouse. Today, they are a leading supplier of products for manufacturing, construction, automotive, chemical processing, and numerous other industries. PPG produces protective and decorative coatings, flat and fabricated glass products, and industrial and specialty coatings and materials.

But before all of that, PPG was a long shot.

Starting Against the Odds

In 1880, John Pitcairn and Captain John B. Ford founded the New York City Plate Glass Company, headquartered in Creighton, Pennsylvania. Their aim was to produce and market plate glass, which was an ambitious undertaking; almost all of the United States’s plate glass was important from Europe at that time, and many previous attempts to start a plate glass company in the U.S. had failed. Belgium, England, France, and Germany monopolized the machinery and the skilled technicians to produce plate glass.

Pitcairn and Ford, perhaps predictably, ran out of money on their first venture, but did not give up. When they gathered more funding, they reincorporated in 1883 as the Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company. That same year, they produced their first plate glass. Success soon followed, and by 1895 they were producing over six million square meters (20 million square feet) of plate glass annually.

PPG historial plaque at PPG Place in Pittsburgh

Divide and Conquer

Ford and his sons sold their interest in the Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company in 1896 after a disagreement with Pitcairn. While Ford went on to start his own venture, Pitcairn took over as President of PPG. He did not wait long to diversify and bolster his holdings. In 1899, he founded the Columbia Chemical Company to assure PPG had a consistent supply of soda ash, a major component of glass. This company eventually became PPG’s chemical division, and was responsible for the creation of CR-39 material during World War II.

By 1900, PPG was still selling just shy of four million square meters, or 13 million square feet, of plate glass annually. Their success played a significant role in dropping imported plate glass to just 15% of all plate glass used in the U.S. That same year, PPG acquired the Patton Paint Company, which went on to become PPG’s coatings and resins division.

In 1902, PPG took their success abroad in spectacular fashion. They established their European glass factory in Courcelles, Belgium -- directly in the heart of the Belgian glass industry. This was only the beginning; today, PPG's 46,000 employees are protecting and beautifying the world with operations in more than 70 countries.

PPG is currently the world’s leading coatings company and provides some of the world’s most prominent paint brands. And with Trivex material, PPG has set the bar for excellence in optical care, just as they did with the introduction of CR-39 monomer.

To learn more about the history of PPG, read the company history. If you are interested in learning more about the history of PPG Optical and CR-39 material, see the 50th anniversary informational booklet for CR-39 monomer.