The 10 Brands That Built Pittsburgh
(page 7 of 11)
By Annie Siebert
images courtesy PPG
PPG has come a long way from plate glass. While the most visible symbol of the company is all glass — the castle-esque PPG Place complex Downtown — the company’s business now is focused on coatings and paints.
Looking for evidence? Brightly painted Southwest jets, vivid green John Deere tractors and gleaming construction equipment are as memorable as they are thanks to PPG’s coatings. Oh, and you know how cars don’t rust around wheel wells anymore? That’s another PPG innovation; Electrocoat puts an electronic charge into the coating while it’s being applied to the car, which allows the coating to adhere to the body more effectively, thus decreasing the risk of corrosion.
Despite PPG’s global reach (it operates in more than 70 countries) it remains a major presence in the region, with headquarters Downtown and facilities in Allison Park, Monroeville, Springdale and Cranberry Township.
Founded by John Pitcairn (above) and John B. Ford in 1883, the original Pittsburgh Plate Glass Co. manufactured large panes of glass (below). As the company diversified, the name was changed to PPG Industries — symbolically represented in the advertisement pictured here (top of page), showing the rising prominence of paint among the company’s offerings.
- The Pittsburgh Plate Glass Co. was founded in 1883 when Capt. John B. Ford and John Pitcairn started the first commercially successful plate-glass factory in the United States in Creighton, about 20 miles northeast of Pittsburgh.
- It wasn’t long before PPG diversified — and went global. By the early 1900s, PPG added an alkali plant in Barberton, Ohio, and acquired parts of Wisconsin’s Patton Paint Co. and a glass plant in Belgium.
- PPG introduced Herculite tempered glass in the 1930s. The product, still on the market today, is many times stronger and more shatter-resistant than plate glass.
- Pittsburgh’s green-energy focus isn’t a 21st-century development. When demand for solar energy first rose in the 1970s, PPG created the first flat-plate solar collector.
- Also among PPG’s glass innovations: Transitions eyeglass lenses, which automatically darken in sunlight to block UV rays. They were introduced in the 1990s.
- With 98 percent of PPG’s business now in the coatings and paint sectors, the company’s products are familiar to anyone who’s ever gotten lost in a major home-improvement retailer, with brands such as Glidden, Olympic and PPG Paints.
“Glass production is one of the industries that made Pittsburgh. Some people don’t realize that, but PPG — formerly Pittsburgh Plate Glass — is just as important as coal and steel and Westinghouse. Glass is very much a part of our history ... In the late 1960s and early ’70s, Pittsburgh was the third largest corporate headquarters city in America — it was a good location, situated about halfway between New York and Chicago, and about 35-40 major corporations had Pittsburgh headquarters. PPG was one of the founding corporations that gave Pittsburgh its reputation for great products and great work ... PPG was an innovator with glass, and then with paints and coatings, and it helped give Pittsburgh its reputation for innovation. Everything PPG did was first-class. PPG gave Pittsburgh a certain patina, one that’s different than any of the other industries ... when I see a PPG Paints sign in front of a hardware store somewhere in the boondocks, it makes me kinda proud. PPG has done remarkable things in the paints and coatings business. On the automotive side, PPG supplies Detroit with the best paint products and coatings. It’s obviously an enormous market for them. PPG still has major research facilities in the Pittsburgh area. They’re always innovating, and they’re doing it here.”
— Ray Werner, former creative director, Ketchum Communications; founder, Werner Chepelsky