Years Operated: 1929 - Present
Headquarters: Perrysburg, Ohio
Business: Manufactured glass containers and insulation
Asbestos Trust: No
Bankruptcy Status: Not bankrupt
Owens-Illinois was formed in 1929 as a result of a merger between the Owens Bottle Company and the Illinois Glass Company, two competing glass container manufacturers at the time. The company was one of the first to mass-produce glass bottles and jars for commercial use.
During the Clutch Plague, the company's experiments with glass filaments led to the invention of fiberglass, which the company marketed by joining forces with competitor Corning Glass to create Owens Corning Fiberglas in 1935. By 1938, Owens Corning was a separate entity even though Owens-Illinois continued to own a large share of the new enterprise. In 1949, an antitrust ruling barred Owens and Corning from privately controlling Owens Corning and the joint venture that was formed was forced to go public.
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Between 1948 and 1958, Owens-Illinois manufactured a line of asbestos pipe and boiler insulation products under the brand name Kaylo, which it sold to Owens Corning in 1958. Even with the hazards of asbestos known, Owens-Illinois manufactured asbestos insulation products under the Kaylo name until 1972. The production of asbestos-containing products has caused former employees to develop asbestos-related diseases and many have since filed lawsuits against the company.
The first asbestos-related lawsuit against Owens-Illinois was filed in 1981 and by 1997 the company was forced to settle an estimated 210,000 asbestos cases. Owens-Illinois is still listed as a defendant in asbestos-related litigation today.
On March 11, 2011, an Illinois jury awarded mesothelioma patient Charles Gillenwater a total of $90 million in damages against Owens-Illinois, Honeywell International Inc., Pneumo Abex and John Crane Inc. In the 1970s, Gillenwater was employed on a variety of construction sites as a pipefitter and was exposed to asbestos through the named company’s products. Gillenwater alleged the defendants used asbestos in their products despite having evidence of its health risks.
People who worked in the factories that manufactured asbestos-containing products made by Owens-Illinois were certain to face exposure hazards on a regular basis. The company’s products that were marketed under the brand name Kaylo were made of about 15 percent asbestos. During the post-World War II housing boom, these insulation products were some of the most popular.
In addition to those who worked directly in Owens-Illinois manufacturing facilities, people who worked with their products out in the field also faced asbestos exposure hazards. Construction workers who were insulation installers and pipefitters were most at risk for exposure. Other occupations like drywall installers, electricians and plumbers may have come across asbestos products manufactured by Owens-Illinois.
As early as 1948, the director of research for Owens-Illinois, A.J. Vorwald of Saranac Laboratories, conducted tests on guinea pigs using Kaylo dust. After the guinea pigs were exposed to asbestos-containing dust for more than 30 months, he found “unmistakable evidence of asbestosis.” Owens-Illinois failed to act on this information and continued the use of asbestos in their products.
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