Michael Joseph Owens
January 1859, in Mason County, West Virgina
December 1923, in Toledo, Ohio
was a glass manufacturer who invented an automatic glass bottle
manufacturing machine that revolutionized the industry. His
mechanization of the glass-blowing process eliminated child labor from
glass-bottle factories, which he had himself experienced from the age
of ten. To help provide income for his coal-mining family, Owens joined
a glasworks at that age, where he stoked coal into the "glory hole" of
the furnace used to resoften glass during the several stages of the
hand-formed process. Within a few years, at age 15, he had graduated to
the job of glass-blower.
In 1888, he
moved to Toledo, Ohio, where he worked at the glass factory of Edward
Drummond Libbey, and shortly became its superintendent. It produced
items, including cut glassware, which he demonstrated at the company's
exhibit during the World's
Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893.
He had already
started experimenting with a piston-pump to first suck molten glass
into a mold to gather a correct measure of the material and then to
transfer it to a second mold into which it was blown by reversing the
pump. Although the initial results were crudely formed, he was
ready to take out patents in 1895
(No. 534,840; 548,587; 548,588). Owens designed
machines to manufacture lamp-chimneys and tumblers.
Libbey and others, Owens formed the Owens Bottle Machine Company in
1903. With continued development and improvements, by the time he
obtained patent No. 774,690 on 8 Nov 1904, he had a machine capable to
producing four bottles per second.
He was ready to
expand the business, and in 1905 opened a factory in Manchester,
Owens' machines could be
built with from
six to twenty
arms, each blowing a bottle. The machine would cut loose the finished
piece and deliver it to a conveyor taking it to the annealing
Since a fifteen-arm
machine could do as much work as originally done by a dozen or more
skilled glassworkers, depending on the size and shape
of the product, there was a dramatic saving in labour costs. One
version of his bottle-blowing machine, the "AR," contained 10,000 parts
and weighed 50 tons.
Libbey and Owens had helped fund Irving W Colburn, who since 1900 had
been working on a machine capable of continuously drawing flat sheet
glass. In 1912, they bought the patents to this machine, which Owens
perfected, and the Libbey-Owens Sheet Glass Company was opened in 1916
to make window glass.
continued as the inventor, Libbey worked with investors and licensed
the inventions to other bottle manufacturers.
From 1919, he
retired from day-to-day management of his company to focus his time on
inventing. He eventually held 45 U.S. patents, either independently or
jointly with others.
References: Dictionary of American
Biography, American National Biography