Pyrex, Pa.: Charleroi celebrating the centennial of its famed product
A name change is being cooked up for Charleroi.
Beginning May 16, the Washington County town is going to be named for probably its best-known product: Pyrex.
“For 100 days, we'll be putting up signs saying, ‘Welcome to Pyrex, Pa.' or changing the name of events to things like the Pyrex Baseball Tournament,” says Mike Scheffki, brand manager of Pyrex, the ovenware manufactured there.
It is part of the centennial celebration for Pyrex, the heatproof ovenware Scheffki estimates is in 80 million homes in North America.
It has been manufactured since the mid-'30s in Charleroi when Corning Glass bought a factory there that was making heat-resistant lantern chimneys.
Besides the name change, the centennial celebration will include a pancake breakfast at the downtown Markethouse, a mobile pop-up store featuring games and Pyrex products and a display of the Guinness records-certified World's Largest Measuring Cup.
Scheffki says the container, which looks like the classic Pyrex one, is 3,000 cups in size and soon might hold another record.
“I think it is going to be in the most selfies of any object,” he says with a laugh.
Scheffki works for the Illinois-based World Kitchen, a licensee of Corning Glass that also makes items such as CorningWare and Corelle.
He says the secret of Pyrex's success is its durable construction that comes from workers who are skilled at dealing with glass products.
“Many products have come along, met fame, then have been shipped out to be made overseas,” he says. “But here the secret is the same as always: the good people of Charleroi.”
John Lackovic, director of the Charleroi plant, says the site is a display of the “pride in the work ethic of the community.” He says many of the 355 workers at the plant have generations-long histories in the glass industry so know the tricks of the trade.
The success of Pyrex also means the plant is working at full speed, he says.
Scheffki estimates the Charleroi plant produces between 40 million and 50 million pieces of Pyrex a year.
He says Pyrex dates back a few years before 1915 when a Corning engineer was working on creating heat-resistant glass for railroad engine lights. His wife innocently asked him if he had any material that could be used to replace a casserole dish she had broken.
He gave her some of the glass. When she told him how evenly it baked and how smoothly it cleaned, he got the idea for another product.
The first line of Pyrex items appeared in 1915. The measuring cup debuted in 1925 and the signature red markings on it were added in 1941. Anne Madarasz, museum division director at the Senator John Heinz History Center in the Strip District, says the manufacturing shift from Corning, N.Y., to Charleroi was done for three extremely practical reasons.
There was an existing glass plant, a skilled workforce and, most importantly, an easy way to keep the furnaces burning: natural gas.
Glass companies have to keep their furnaces going all of the time, she says, and the New York plant was fueled by wood. Western Pennsylvania's richness in natural gas made it much easier.
It was a huge step in the “mass production of the really new item,” she adds.
Scheffki also calls Pyrex “perhaps the original green product” because it can be used time and again for baking jobs and is strong enough to last for decades.
Bob Karlovits is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-320-7852.