Volume 45, Issue 10 - October 2010

theBusiness

The Three Holy Things

When I was a kid growing up on Chicago’s far west side, there were three holy things. I refer here to secular holy things and not those Holy things associated with religious practice. While I make no attempt to hide my religious beliefs when asked about them, I am very much aware that this publication has a broad and diverse readership so I am obligated to exercise a certain amount of restraint when dealing with certain subject matter. And religion is one of those subjects. So right here and now, let me say one more time that when I herein refer to holy things, I am dealing with secular items where the word holy should be viewed adjectively. So please, no nasty e-mails or phone calls.

Okay …where was I? Oh yes, when I was a kid, there were three holy things. There was holy mackerel, holy cow and holy Toledo. Each of these three holies had its own special place in the day-to-day conversations of the kids I hung around with. For instance, at a baseball game, a really great catch or outstanding hit would draw a hearty and often stretched out “holy cow” while a non athletic event that was extraordinary or just simply unexpected would typically command a “holy mackerel” or two. To the group of kids that I spent the bulk of my time with, a holy cow was actually a compliment of sorts while a holy mackerel was simply a comment about an unusual event of some type.

Now … a holy Toledo was something else all together. You see, holy Toledos were reserved for big events, for things that were both rare and dramatic. For instance, when lightening struck the big elm tree in back of the Bruney’s house and caused a large portion of that tree to crash through the bedroom of their house just missing the sleeping Jungle Jim Bruney by a couple of feet, holy Toledos could be heard for several days. There were some who thought the occurrence only merited a holy mackerel but because the life of the erstwhile Jungle Jim had apparently been spared by what could only be defined as a fortunate twist of fate or perhaps even divine intervention, most of the kids in the neighborhood came down on the side of holy Toledo (although I do, now that I think about, remember Jungle Jim’s dad, Edison Bruney, using a completely different set of expressions when talking about the event. And trust me; there was nothing holy, from a secular or religious standpoint, about any of what he had to say).

Like all young kids, I didn’t always understand the words or expressions I heard and eagerly took for my own. In fact, until I was in about the second grade, I regularly inserted the word “torpedo” for “Toledo” and until I was about 8 or 9, I had no clue that Toledo was actually a city in a far away place known as Ohio. As with most kid things, I ultimately outgrew all of this and the three holy things of my youth faded away to become only a distant memory of a time long ago.

On August 29th of this year, an article appeared in the Wall Street Journal that described a building being built by the Toledo Museum of Art. It is to be a $30,000,000 Glass Pavilion, a symbol of America’s “Glass City” and is to reflect the legacy of its local glassmakers. It sounds good and, for sure, those early American glass pioneers of Northwestern Ohio deserved some recognition for their accomplishments. But there’s a catch. The design of the facility is such that the glass that will be used for its construction will come from China. Yes, China.

Unlike the planned New York Freedom Tower, which at last report was going to use Chinese glass because of budgeting pressure … no surprise that the Chinese product is cheaper … the glass to be used for the “Glass City” museum project can allegedly only be made in China. I’m having a hard time believing this but, even if it’s true, is the design of whatever is being planned that unique and outstanding that it can’t be tweaked a bit to allow for a domestic manufactured product? There’s still a great deal of beautiful product made domestically and, personally, as someone who has spent his entire adult life in the architectural glass business, the trade-off is an easy one to swallow.

I know there are those who will read this article and wonder aloud if I have been living in a cave and have never heard of this phenomenon known as the global economy, but I wonder how many people really understand the long range implications of what we currently call the global economy. You see, our competitors in this global economy thing operate in countries that don’t have minimum wages, workers compensation, unionization, as many lawyers as doctors, OSHA, EPA or high taxation. You want to be part of the global economy … you play by their rules … not yours.

I’m not going to pretend to have any of the answers to all of this. I’m not even sure I know all of the questions, but I think I know some of them and I am personally bothered by this Toledo dilemma almost as much as I was by the Freedom Tower matter.

Once, in the early 1900s, Toledo was considered a leader in world glass production and had more than 100 glassmakers of every possible ilk producing anything and everything related to glass. Today, the entire United States allegedly has 33 active glass float lines in production. According to The Wall Street Journal Report, two of these float lines are in Toledo, but are run by the Japanese Nippon Sheet’s Pilkington unit. Reportedly, by the way, the Chinese city of Shahe alone has 44 float lines of its own.

Interestingly, Edward Drummond Libbey … as in Libbey-Owens-Ford … was the man who originally endowed the Toledo Museum of Art. I have no doubt that the money provided was from the profits derived from those glass production facilities in Ohio that were under his control. Mr. Libbey passed away some time ago but I can’t help but wonder what he might have had to say about all of this if were still alive. My guess … Holy Toledo!


USG
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