By Mary Giorgio
Charles Edward Henry, the founder of Kokomo Opalescent Glass (KOG), arrived in New York in the early 1880s and formed Henry Art Glass. He produced opalescent glass rods as well as small glass items like buttons and beads. The glass artists of New York were important for the development of Henry’s glass company. He made many contacts with up-and-coming artists, including Louis Comfort Tiffany.
Henry came to the Midwest in the late 1880s, when its wealth of natural gas was discovered and more than 400 gas wells developed virtually overnight. Henry traveled to Kokomo where he was offered a free supply of natural gas if he agreed to establish his new plant there. Within 24 hours, he signed the necessary paperwork and established the Kokomo Opalescent Glass Works there in 1888.
Success followed the company from New York to Indiana. The year after launching the Kokomo plant, Henry and his company won the 1889 Paris World Exposition gold medal for its multi-hued window glass. Appearing at this exposition was strategically important to the company’s global success. Immediately following its gold medal win, KOG amassed a multitude of orders that it carried home to its Kokomo factory.
In the early days of operation, the new plant specialized in making sheet glass. It found a major use for its remnant glass too, using it to create electric insulators for Edison General Electric. One of the Kokomo factory’s first large sheet glass orders was delivered to Tiffany who would become one of the company’s best-known customers. This order included 600 pounds of white and blue opalescent glass. Eventually, Tiffany would produce his own glass, but frequently consulted and ordered glass from KOG.
Unfortunately, Henry had developed a drinking problem and after his return from France, his debts began to pile up even as orders continued to pour into the glass company. In 1890, Henry was jailed for what local newspapers called “violent behavior.” In 1890 at the age of 46, Henry was admitted to the Central State Hospital and his company was placed into receivership. Henry died two years later, but the glass works continued to operate under court orders. In 1891, three local businessmen purchased the company and managed it with great success.
Over the years, KOG would add new equipment to its factory while maintaining many of the old glass-making traditions. With each decade, it produced new color formulations and many types of opalescent glass products in its 2500-degree furnace. Today, the glass company features tours with live demonstrations by glass-making artisans and glass-making classes.
KOG also boasts an on-site and online gift shop that sells artisan-created glass pieces made from the company’s glass. Shoppers will find a wide range of items, including art glass paperweights, glassware, bowls, vases, and more. As in the past, KOG art glass is renowned for its rich and varied colored and textured glass products.