We’ve all heard it before: Corning is synonymous with glass. Between the Museum exhibiting the history and present of glass, and Corning Incorporated creating the future with glass, it’s not a hard case to make. But there’s another name that, over the course of 155 years, has become synonymous with Corning: Houghton.
As the leaders of Brooklyn Flint Glass Works—later Corning Glass Works, then Corning Incorporated—the Houghton family has been an integral part of the Corning community since they moved their glass company to the city in 1868. Five generations of Houghtons led Corning Incorporated, building up not just a company, but an entire community. Now, with the recent passing of James (Jamie) R. Houghton and the memorial service of Amory (Amo) Houghton Jr, we’re looking back on their impact and legacy, on the Museum and on the city of Corning.
Amo and Jamie, born in 1926 and 1936 respectively, were the sons of Amory Houghton, U.S. Ambassador to France (1957–1961), and Laura DeKay Richardson Houghton. The brothers led what was then Corning Glass Works, from the 1960s until the mid-1990s, with Jamie returning to run the company in 2001 through the mid-2000s. During their tenures, they guided the company through multiple economic and corporate disasters, including a flood that nearly destroyed the city of Corning, and the company’s expansion into fiber optics, the technology that makes the Internet possible.
One of the most common questions the Museum receives is in regard to its ownership: Is The Corning Museum of Glass the Corning Incorporated Museum? Given the similarities between the names, it’s an easy mistake to make. But the answer is no; rather, both the Museum and Corning Incorporated were named for the city of Corning where they’re both located. When Amory Houghton and Arthur A. Houghton, Amo and Jamie’s cousin once removed, founded the Museum in 1951, their focus was on the community, rather than the company. The construction of the original Museum building emphasized this: in addition to displays on glass science and innovation, the building included recreational facilities like bowling alleys, billiards rooms, and a theater for the local community to use. In all that the Houghton family did, the community was always at the heart of it, and it was a legacy that would come to define Amo and Jamie.
In 1953, Amo was named to the Corning Glass Works board of directors and worked as the manager of appliance parts sales in the specialty products division. While Amory Houghton served as ambassador in France, Amo acted as his father’s eyes and ears within the company. In the process, he also became a well-loved and active member of the community like his father. Seeing Amo around the city was almost as common as seeing him at the Glass Works, especially if you happened upon the temporary Centerway Square tourist booth while he was working a shift.
In Amo’s own words, “Corning Glass Works is a country company, not a city company, and as a result we must concentrate our efforts where we are already established, which is primarily Corning, NY.” (Dyer & Gross, 2001, p 289). To that end, Amo was instrumental in the creation of the Three Rivers Development Corporation, which began as a business to improve housing options for Corning employees in the valley. Aiding in further economic and cultural growth, the Houghtons were key players in developing Market Street as a destination for independent businesses and community events alike. At the Museum, Amo supported the 1980 Gunnar Birkerts expansion that includes the current 35 Centuries of Glass Galleries.
When the Chemung River Flood of 1972 devastated the Greater Corning Area and the Corning Glass Works facilities in the surrounding area, rumors spread that the disaster would cause the Houghton family to move Corning Glass Works out of the region. Amo went on the local radio to reassure the community, “I want those of you who are employees of our company, to know that as long as we respond well to our customer’s needs your jobs are secure. Not a flood, a hurricane, nor any other act of nature is going to jeopardize this. You are the Corning Glass Works, particularly here in this city which is our home and headquarters.” (Dyer & Gross, 2001, p 313). Corning Glass Works made good on Amo’s promises, making paychecks available to employees the day after the flood waters receded, and offering employees—including retired employees and the surviving spouses of former employees—interest-free loans to help cover personal losses from flood damage. The Corning Glass Works Foundation further assisted with community organizing, financing a group of community members that assisted with damage repairs to the elderly, ill, and anyone else who needed the help. At the Museum, Amo served as a member of the board of trustees and was later recognized as trustee emeritus.
Jamie, meanwhile, started at Corning Glass Works as a process engineer, quickly being promoted to lead a crew working on the glass ribbon machine to produce lightbulbs (Dyer & Gross, 2001, p 370). When Amo followed in the family’s political tradition, serving as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from 1986 to 2005 in the same district that his grandfather did, Jamie took over leadership of Corning Glass Works. As chief strategic officer at Corning, Jamie initiated a review of the company’s business portfolio and drove the business to invest more heavily in what were then future technologies like optical fiber and biotechnology (Dyer & Gross, 2001, p 363). Under Jamie’s tenure, the company formally changed its name from Corning Glass Works to Corning Incorporated to reflect its identity as a “global network…a closely knit web of businesses tied together by common interests.” (Dyer & Gross, 2001, p 413) With his wife, Maisie, Jamie generously donated to the Museum’s contemporary art collection and was a founding member of the Ennion Society. Jamie further served on the Museum’s board of trustees before being honored as trustee emeritus. Today, Jamie’s son, James D. Houghton, continues that legacy as a board member himself.
Throughout all of their work in business, politics, and nonprofits, Amo and Jamie always understood that Corning Incorporated is fundamentally intertwined with Corning, NY, and its people. In the foreword of The Generations of Corning: The Life and Times of a Global Corporation, Jamie wrote, “What is true of the Houghtons is no less true of numerous other families whose sons, daughters, and grandchildren have proudly followed their forebears to help shape Corning’s future.”
Although the passings of Amo and Jamie Houghton truly mark the end of an era, we now do as they always did, and look forward to what the people of Corning will build next.
*All images courtesy of the Corning Incorporated Department of Archives & Records Management, Corning, NY.