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The Fabulous Monster: Owens Bottle Machine

All About Glass

The most significant advance in glass production in over 2,000 years ...
     — American Society of Mechanical Engineers, 1983

Michael Owens, a self-taught American inventor, propelled the glass industry into the mechanical age. In 1903, he unveiled the world’s first completely automatic glass-forming machine—a machine for making bottles.

Owens was determined to eliminate the hand delivery of hot glass to bottle machines. He was convinced that a machine could suck thick, molten glass from a rotating pot directly into its molds. This idea defied every glassmaking convention.

It took years of trial and error before Owens introduced his first commercial bottle machine. The mechanical monster had to lift most of its own enormous weight each time it moved a mold to the glass pot. By 1920, the Owens bottle machine had become a 30-ton colossus with 10,000 parts. Even so, it produced more bottles in an hour than a team of human glassblowers could produce in a day.

Bottles, Bottles, Bottles

Karl Peiler had no experience with glass, but his invention led to machines that made bottles faster than the Owens machine. The American engineer had been hired by Owens’s competitors to find a more practical way to feed glass to bottle machines. In 1915, after months of hazardous experiments with molten glass, Peiler came up with the answer—the gob feeder.

The gob feeder didn’t suck up the heavy, molten glass the way the Owens machine did. Instead, it dropped a glass gob of the correct size and shape into the machine’s mold. Peiler had learned that the key to forming the gob was controlling the temperature of the glass. If the temperature was right, a paddle could push the needed amount of glass over the rim of the vat at the right time. The falling gob of glass would assume the correct shape naturally.

Peiler’s gob feeder was the breakthrough that led to modern glass-forming machines. All the Owens machines are now gone. Today, most of the world’s bottles are produced on I.S. (Individual Section) machines, using gob feeders that are successors to Peiler’s invention.

I.S. (Individual Section) bottle machines

The Corning Museum of Glass
This article was originally published in Innovations in Glass, 1999, pp. 50–51.

Published on October 25, 2011