Former plant manager proud of glass creations that put Mt. Pleasant on map

| Saturday, March 15, 2014, 2:47 p.m.

Forrest Kastner remembers well the days when Mt. Pleasant was an internationally recognized glass producer.

The plant manager of the former L.E. Smith Glass factory will share his memories of the region's golden years of glass production at 7 p.m. Thursday at Mt. Pleasant Glass Museum.

Kastner graduated from Ramsay High School in 1958 and went on to earn a degree in mechanical engineering from Penn State.

After working for U.S. Steel-Homestead for six years, he took a job at L.E. Smith Glass factory. He would serve in various administrative capacities for the next 40 years, retiring as plant manager.

Kastner said there are many similarities between forging steel and making glass.

“In forging steel, you take raw materials and pour them into slabs and ingots,” he said. “The process of making glass is fairly similar in that you take molten glass and forge handmade products.”

Kastner recalls his years at L.E. Smith as the glory years of glassmaking.

“When I started there, the popularity of hand-cut glass had reached its peak, “ he said. “The words ‘hand-made' drew people to our products. It wasn't just L.E. Smith glass, but lots of other glass producers as well. We had lots of orders. It was a challenge to get them shipped.”

Overseas competition, however, brought those glory days to an end, Kastner said.

“As our wages went up, we began to have more competition from Europe and from Asia,” he said. “They produced some products cheaper than we could.”

Kastner said the biggest change in glass production was in the types of furnaces used to heat the glass.

“The actual making of the glass products has been the same always,” he said. “The change has been in the types of melting furnaces we use. At first, we used direct fired-wood burners. Then we switched to recuperators — a type of engine that recycles heat — to save fuel. We then used oxygen enrichment — a system that uses liquid oxygen for combustion — and then to oxygen only.”

Kastner says he wants future generations to know the sacrifice that professional glass makers have to make.

“These men were tough,” he said. “They endured many blisters. You have to enjoy heat and have a good set of hands to be a glass maker.”

The L.E. Smith Glass Factory opened in 1907 and was renowned for its black glass, punch bowls and swing vases. It closed in 2005.

Mt. Pleasant Glass Museum is at 402 E. Main St., Mt Pleasant — the site of the old Lenox Factory. Admission is a suggested donation of $3.

For more information, call the museum at 724-542-4949.

Barbara Starn is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.

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