Owens-Illinois, Inc.

  • Year Founded: 1929
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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.

Owens-Illinois, Inc. Facts:
  • Founded: 1929
  • Years Operated: 1929 - Present
  • Headquarters: Perrysburg, Ohio
  • Business: Manufactured glass containers and insulation
  • Asbestos Trust: No
  • Bankruptcy Status: Not bankrupt

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.

Litigation & Specific Lawsuits

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.

A 2015 report in the British Medical Journal analyzed rates of asbestos-related deaths in Belgium between 2001 and 2009. The data show that former asbestos-industry workers are 40 times more likely to die of mesothelioma than the general population.

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.

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Industries & Occupations

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.

Medical Warnings

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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Writer and Editor

Matt Mauney is an award-winning journalist with more than a decade of professional writing and editing experience. He joined The Mesothelioma Center at Asbestos.com in 2016, and he spends much of his time reading, analyzing and reporting on mesothelioma research articles to ensure people in the mesothelioma community know the latest medical advances. Prior to joining Asbestos.com, Matt was a Community Manager at the Orlando Sentinel. Matt also edits pages, articles and other content on the website. He holds a certificate in health writing from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Walter Pacheco, Managing Editor at Asbestos.com
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6 Cited Article Sources

  1. Van den Borre, L. & Deboosere, P. (2015, June 24). Enduring health effects of asbestos use in Belgian industries: a record-linked cohort study of cause-specific mortality (2001–2009). Retrieved from: https://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/5/6/e007384
  2. Owens-Illinois. (2012). The O-I Difference at a Glance. Retrieved from: http://www.o-i.com/About-O-I/Company-Facts/
  3. Paquette, J.K. (2010). The Glassmakers, Revisited: A History of Owens-Illinois. Xlibris, Corporation.
  4. Funding Universe. Owens-Illinois, Inc. History. Retrieved from: http://www.fundinguniverse.com/company-histories/OwensIllinois-Inc-Company-History.html
  5. Bowker, M. (2003). Fatal Deception: The Terrifying True Story of How Asbestos is Killing America. New York, NY: Touchstone.
  6. Pantagraph.com. (2011, Mar. 11). McLean County Jury Awards $90 Million in Asbestos Suit. Retrieved from: http://www.pantagraph.com/news/local/article_a1b050c2-4c67-11e0-bd06-001cc4c002e0.html

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Last Modified March 4, 2019

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