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Ribbon Machines Come Home

by John Vogt - June 28, 2020

The world-famous Corning Glass Ribbon Machines are back home in Wellsboro, Pennsylvania. A big part of Wellsboro history was unloaded at the former Corning Glass / Osram plant in Wellsboro on Tuesday, June 16th.

On today’s fascinating broadcast, Home Page Correspondents Johanna Vogt and Jared Wiker talk with Grant “Skip” Cavanaugh, former Senior Equipment Engineer for Osram-Sylvania, “Skip’s” former boss Tom Reindl who was the Engineering Manager at the time, William Kilmer, former General Foreman of Machine Maintenance, and Ryan Root former ribbon machine mechanic about this historic homecoming.

Each machine is a twenty-ton marvel and considered one of the most significant technological achievements in history. According to ASME, “The company was proud to learn that the American Society of Mechanical Engineers had designated the Ribbon Machine as the tenth International Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark, a ranking which places it on a scale with the first operational steam engine in considering mechanical devices that have changed the face of history.” Do not miss this historic broadcast.

The American Society of Mechanical Engineers stated the following regarding the world-famous Ribbon Machines, “While Thomas Edison perfected the first practical and durable filament in 1879, it was not until much later that electricity left the laboratory to become the universal source of light. This required a tremendous number of glass envelopes for light bulbs. In the 1890s, the top speed of the finest glass-blowing team produced two bulbs a minute. In 1926 Corning Glass Works developed the ribbon machine, capable of producing up to two thousand light bulbs a minute.

In principle, molten glass sags through a hole in a horizontal plate into a mold below and is expanded by air pressure to form an electric light bulb envelope. Continuous motion is achieved by moving a preformed ribbon of glass with precisely matched chains of orifice plates, molds, and blowheads. The ribbon machine was conceived by William J. Woods and designed in collaboration with David E. Gray.”

Will Woods came to Corning Glass in Corning, NY, when he was just nineteen years old to follow his dream of becoming a glassblower. By 1921, Will had achieved his goal and was recognized and respected as a Master Glass Artist for Corning Glass.

By 1921, Will became convinced that he could take the things that he had learned at Corning Glass and expand on the automation process that was already developed. At that time, what was known as the F-Machine was producing approximately 48 bulbs per minute.

He came up with the Ribbon Machine concept and proposed his idea to Mechanical Engineer David Gray. Gray had the wisdom and the know-how to build the idea out into a working machine. Soon afterward, they tested the marvel that could make close to 500,000 blanks every twenty-four hours. This fantastic invention was many times faster than former Corning Glass Machines and ended up putting Wellsboro, Pennsylvania, on the world map as a production center of glass bulbs. During the war, Wellsboro also became the Christmas tree ornament capital of the world, replacing German manufacturing of Christmas ornaments. Continued innovation and adjustments, in 1998, led to a ribbon machine able to produce over 1,600 bulbs per minute.

We will always be grateful to Will Woods, David Gray, and the incredible men on today’s broadcast for their wisdom, dedication, technical expertise, and character that have become part of Wellsboro, Pennsylvania’s rich history.

We are also grateful to (GROW) Growth Resources of Wellsboro and all those who worked behind the scenes for coming up with over sixty thousand dollars to save the machines from being scrapped. Fundraising ideas are being discussed to cover the cost.

Plans include building a museum to preserve and display the ribbon machines here in Wellsboro. We believe this endeavor will inspire future generations to follow their dreams and change the world for good.

We will keep you posted on the progress of this historic undertaking.

Credits:

Videography: Andrew Moore, Ethan Chabala
Video Editing: Andrew Moore
Writing: John Vogt
Anchor: Rhonda Pearson
Correspondent: Johanna Vogt, Jared Wiker

Produced by Vogt Media
Home Page Sponsors: Laurel Health Centers