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Memories of Houze glass continue to shine

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Posted: Sunday, April 24, 2011 2:00 am | Updated: 2:08 pm, Tue Oct 23, 2012.

By Frances Borsodi Zajac


Herald-Standard | 0 comments

For 102 years, Houze Glass in Point Marion created practical and innovative products that were used throughout the nation.

The company produced items such as window glass, lenses for sunglasses, lamps, vases, ashtrays, electric lighters, gear shift and window knobs for cars, as well as decorative glass that ran the gamut from trays to mugs.

“They had 400 patents,’’ said John Houze of Springhill Township, a member of the family. “A lot of people don’t know what they did.’’

John Houze began collecting Houze glass in 2002 after receiving some of the company’s vases from his mother. Both of his parents, Vera and Noel Houze, worked at the factory, as well as other members of the extended family. John Houze built houses for 20 years before going into heating and air conditioning work, but he has accumulated a lot of knowledge about the Houze company in the last decade, putting together a history of Houze and maintaining a website in its honor, Houze Glass Museum.

“My great-grandfather was Ulguisse Houze. He and Leon were brothers,’’ John Houze said, explaining the family connection.

According to John Houze’s history, Leon Joseph Houze Sr. started the glass factory in Point Marion in 1902. He was one of five brothers who were glassblowers and came to America from Belgium in the late 19th century.

The history explained that Leon Houze came to the United States in 1879 at age 22 and worked for Day William Window Glass Co. in Kent, Ohio. In 1881, Leon Houze and his brothers Luke, Ulguisse, John and Vital started a glass factory in Meadville, Pa., called Houze Brothers Glass that made window glass. The factory burned, was rebuilt and then burned again.

“Then the wives said they had enough,’’ said John Houze.

The brothers went their separate ways, with Ulguisse Houze eventually ending up in the state of California, where he brought an orange grove, although his son Noel J. Houze eventually went to work for his uncle Leon Houze in Point Marion.

Before starting his business in Point Marion, however, Leon Houze built glass furnaces in Olean, N.Y., where John Houze said his ancestor built the first glass furnace powered by natural gas, as well as in Illinois, Ohio, New York, Indiana, West Virginia and Pennsylvania.

Leon Houze also produced numerous inventions for the glass industry, including putting glass on cast-iron forms and running them through a heating oven to soften them into convex glass used for pictures, clock faces and instrument dials, the history said.

In 1899, Leon Houze came to Point Marion and built the Jeanette Window glass company. He returned in 1902 to build the Federated Glass Co. The history noted that Leon Houze built two more glass plants in Point Marion, including Houze Portrait Glass in 1902 that was eventually renamed Houze Window Glass, and L.J. Houze Convex Glass in 1914. Eventually, he bought out Jeanette Window and Federated Glass and incorporated all of the plants into L.J. Houze Convex Glass Co. in 1923.

Leon Houze had three sons: Armand Sr., Roger and Leon Jr., who all worked at the factory. Armand was the glass chemist who started working for his father when he formed the convex glass company and became vice president of the company. He was in charge of coloring the glass and chemicals. Roger Houze took care of sales and was plant manager.

The scope of Houze products was broad.

John Houze showed off a Saturn lamp the company made for the 1939 World’s Fair in Chicago. The company also made children’s toy glass dishes, lamps, lamp shades and figure lamps.

With World War II approaching, the history noted that exportation of colored glass for goggles and sunglasses was stopped. Houze made optical glass and mirrors for Bausch and Lomb binoculars. The company asked if they could continue business after the war.

In 1942, the war department came to the factory and took all the uranium that was used in making glass. John Houze showed some glass made before the 1940s that glowed when an ultraviolet light is shined on it.

They made the first infrared lenses for the Navy in the 1940s and did a lot of work for the war department.

“It was classified and they wouldn’t let you in the rooms when they were working,’’ said Houze.

Leon Houze found a way to make various colors of glass that could be used for sunglasses and welding goggles. Houze made the glass lenses for many sunglass manufacturers, including Foster Grant, John Houze said.

“There was no end to the colors they could produce,’’ the history said. “Houze had well over 700 glass formulas, which were used in making ashtrays, cigarette containers, lamp parts, desk pen bases and gift items for private manufacturers.’’

John Houze noted that Houze had a custom glass factory with a mold shop that would make steel molds from drawings that customers submitted and then create the glass, such as glass for Ford Motor Co. that was used for fuel pump filters. Houze also made taillights for car companies and fraternal organizations. They made gear shift and window knobs that were sold by Sears, S.S. Kresge, Montgomery Ward and Woolworth.

John Houze said that Houze window glass was used in the White House restoration in the 1950s.

The history noted, “All of the 60 exterior windows came from the Houze glass plant in Point Marion. The Houze company was the only plant in the country able to duplicate the quality and manufacture the windows as they were originally installed at the White House when it was first built. Armand L. Houze Sr. was in charge of the blowing process. John R. Houze was in contact with a contractor working at the White House and as of April 5, 2011, the Houze windows are still in the White House.’’

At the 50th anniversary celebration, the company announced development of the first atomic goggles to protect against atomic radiation and glare for use by workers in the atomic industry.

The company did work for NASA in the late 1950s, early 60s, Houze said, that included a high-strength glass for the space program.

In 1948, Armand Houze’s son Roger J. Houze, an artist, came up with the idea of cutting the glass and screening pictures, logos and advertisements on it and bending the glass. The company first produced Christmas cards on glass trays in 1950 with this new production and Houze Art became a new department. The company did work for artists such as Peter Max, Dan Baird and Tommy Parzinger. The department screened and bent glass until 1995. Houze made its own bending glass until 1974, when it used up its stock and started buying glass.

The history noted that Houze produced special glassware for President Gerald R. Ford for guests who flew on Air Force One. Houze also produced glass trays and tumblers for Presidents Richard Nixon and Lyndon B. Johnson. Houze also produced 100 special trays for Nixon to take as gifts for dignitaries on his 1972 trip to China.

John Houze said the family sold the company in 1954. It eventually closed in 2004. But it offered more than a century of work and amazing products.

“He kept the town going for 102 years,’’ John Houze said of Leon Houze. “They’ve made millions of things.’’

Houze recently showed some of his collection at a meeting of the Fayette County Historical Society at its museum/headquarters on Route 40 in Menallen Township.

“It went really well,’’ reported vice president Bill Zinn. “We were afraid we wouldn’t have enough chairs. The people seemed to enjoy the program.’’

The program featured a film that showed Point Marion, including the Houze factory, as well as Smithfield and Lake Lynn in 1937. The film was found in a safe in a social organization in Point Marion and eventually converted to a DVD.

“The film showed a lot of Lake Lynn Dam. It would have only been 10 years old then. It was still a big deal,’’ said Zinn.

He noted the audience included Martha Dresman of Point Marion, who could identify many people in the film, including herself. Zinn plans to talk with her further.

“I’m hoping to put as many names as I can to the video, even go to Point Marion and identify street views,’’ he said.

The audience also enjoyed seeing pieces of John Houze’s collection.

“It’s got me looking in antique shops for the glass,’’ said Zinn. “I know they made a lot of things.’’

The next meeting of the historical society will be at 7 p.m. May 2 at their museum. For more information, call 724-439-4422.

For more information on John Houze’s website, visit www.houzeglassmuseum.com.

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