Remember when: Henry Ford almost opened Windshield, an auto glass factory in East Deer | Rare Techy
Henry Ford—yes, that Henry Ford—had big plans for the Alle-Kisk Valley a century ago.
In fact, had it not been for a couple of negative events, it could have changed the trajectory of history in the industry.
Ford, forward-looking industrialist that he was, planned to build a windshield and auto glass factory in the Glassmere section of East Deer.
The stage was set by another person named Ford, specifically Captain John B. Ford. Although unrelated, John B. Ford is the man after whom Ford City was named.
John B. Ford discovered that the sand on the banks of the Allegheny River was conducive to the production of glass. He established the original factory in Ford City, which became the Pittsburgh Plate Glass Co., and in 1883 one in the Creighton section of East Deer.
About a mile south of the Creighton plant was the Allegheny Glass Co. in the Glassmere section of East Deer. Henry Ford bought Allegheny Glass on February 6, 1923 and hoped to expand it enough to hire 2,000 workers.
Why would Henry Ford want to build a glass factory nearly 300 miles from his base in Dearborn, Michigan?
Plans at the time called for a canal on the upper Allegheny River, through French Creek at Meadville, and an inland waterway to Lake Erie. Ford’s glass products can easily be transported by barge to the massive Ford River Rouge plant near Detroit.
Ford was so confident that the canal would eventually be built that he built about 20 model houses in Glassmere to give the people of the area a sample of what was to come. Ford also bought large properties between Freeport Road and Bouquet Hill.
In fact, the Pittsburgh and Lake Erie Canal Board was created several years earlier in anticipation of the canal. Civic associations and the media are behind the idea.
Ford tried to visit the area with his son Edsel. But instead there were welcoming committees and the Tarentum Valley Daily News enthusiastically welcomed the auto magnate.
Ford also visited the American Glass Co. in Arnold. a factory that the locals affectionately call the “glass building”. He also considered buying Carnegie farmland across the river from Freeport to build a steel mill. The sky seemed to be the limit.
However, several factors prevented the canal from being dug, including the lack of funding for the canal and the onset of the Great Depression. Tired of waiting and wanting to cover his bases, Ford added the River Rouge Glass Works in 1927.
In the early 1930s, Ford sold the Glassmere plant, which employed about 1,000 workers, to the United Iron and Metal Co., but did not close any of the homes it built. United Iron and Metal went out of business and ownership reverted to Ford.
Tired of paying taxes on an empty building, Ford decided to liquidate the community and enlisted New Kensington realtor Fred Moran to auction the property.
On March 8, 1937, Ford’s dream officially ended as Moran sold all the properties within 24 hours.
George Guido is a contributing writer for the Tribune-Review.