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The Town Bell Rang

When Ball Corporation moved headquarters to Colorado in 1998, the company donated its large collection of jars to Minnetrista. Ball chemist Dick Cole headed across town to Minnetrista instead of making the longer trip to Colorado. Why would Minnetrista hire a chemist? Dick’s work involved chemistry but his passion is the Ball jar, and he followed “his” jars here. Dick retired several years ago, but I still rely on his expertise. And, occasionally, I recycle stories that he shared. This is one.

Two men sat in the hotel lobby in the summer of 1886. Both were businessmen, in Bowling Green, Ohio, for the same reason—looking for a site to locate a new factory. One wanted to establish a mill, and the other wanted to build a branch factory to make glass.

The gas boom had hit the Midwest. Towns lucky enough to be located over natural gas pockets, like Bowling Green, were competing with each other to induce companies to build factories that would turn their backwater burgs into thriving, industrialized cities. And the inducements could be tempting. Free land, free gas, low taxes, and cash were all on the bargaining table. Each of the two businessmen had made his case for inducements to the city council. Each had been told that the request would be taken under advisement.

As the two sat in the hotel lobby commiserating, the town bell rang. The man from New York said to the other, “Mr. Giles, maybe that means my case is to be acted upon.” The other replied “Sir, I have been in Bowling Green for a week, and that sound has become very familiar to me. You likely will hear it many times before they decide anything on your case.”

Frank C. Ball did become familiar with the town bell. When a telegram was delivered inviting him to consider Muncie, Indiana, before making a decision, he seized the opportunity. And the rest is history. The Ball brothers built their glass factory as a branch operation, but it quickly became their primary concern. Their Buffalo operations were eventually closed and moved to Muncie. And the kerosene can was soon replaced by the fruit jar.

What happened to the other man in the hotel lobby? The rolling mill deal did not work out, and J.S. Giles eventually became a partner in the Crystal Glass Company in Bowling Green. When the natural gas started to fail in 1893, the company relocated to a site not far from Muncie and renamed the company. In 1897, the Giles-Clough Company adopted the name of its new hometown and became the Redkey Glass Company.

For a time, the Redkey Mason jar was a competitor of the Ball Mason jar. Ball managed to survive and thrive when the gas boom went bust, while Redkey Glass did not. Check out the Redkey Mason jar from the Minnetrista Heritage Collection.

minnetrista heritage collection

minnetrista collects the objects and archival material that document the people, places, events, organisations, businesses and industry of the region – in other words, the history of east central indiana.

browse our collection