The History of Owens Illinois

James F. Humphreys & Associates, L.C. has represented thousands of people with asbestos related injuries . In the course of doing so, we have become familiar with the corporate history of many companies which manufactured or distributed asbestos products.

If you used a glass container today, there’s a good chance that it was made by Owens-Illinois, Inc. (O-I), or one of its affiliates or franchisees, because they account for about half of all the glass containers manufactured in the world.  Although O-I is widely recognized as a glass company, many people may not realize that at one time, it was also a major manufacturer and distributor of Kaylo, an asbestos containing insulation used on steam pipes and boilers. Here at James F. Humphreys & Associates, L.C., we’re familiar with this history because we have helped many people obtain compensation from O-I for their asbestos related injuries or the death of a loved one.  

The story of O-I begins in 1903 when a glass blower named Michael J. Owens invented an automatic bottle making machine. Prior to that time, it had been difficult to make uniform glass products with consistent shape, size and thickness. In 1907, the Owens Bottle Machine Company of Toledo, Ohio was incorporated. It merged with the Illinois Glass Company, another manufacturer of glass containers, in 1929 to form the Owens-Illinois Glass Company. During the 1930s, it started making plastic closures, and in 1965 the company changed its name to Owens Illinois, Inc., a more inclusive name which reflected the company’s diversifying product lines.

From roughly 1948 to 1958, O-I  manufactured a high temperature calcium silicate insulation which contained about 15% to 22% asbestos. It was called Kaylo and was used on steam pipes and boilers. During the early years, from about 1948 to 1952, O-I marketed its Kaylo products itself. From 1952 to 1958, O-I continued to make Kaylo, but this product was marketed by Owens Corning Fiberglas under an agreement between the two companies.  In 1958, O-I sold its Kaylo line to Owens Corning Fiberglas, which continued to make and sell asbestos containing Kaylo until at least 1972.

From the beginning, O-I received information linking asbestos to various diseases, but failed to warn its  Kaylo customers about such hazards. For example, on March 12, 1943,  L.U. Gardner of the Saranac Laboratories in New York wrote a letter to U.E. Bowes, O-I Director of Research,  regarding Kaylo which stated in part that: “The fact that you are starting with a mixture of quartz and asbestos would certainly suggest that you have all the ingredients for a first class hazard.”

In 1945, animal testing with Kaylo dust began. On November 16, 1948, A.J. Vorvald of the Saranac Laboratories wrote a letter to U.E. Bowes which discussed  tests conducted on guinea pigs using Kaylo dust. Among animals exposed to dust for more than 30 months, there was “unmistakable  evidence of asbestosis.” Attached to this letter was a report, Interim Report Regarding the Biological Activity of Kaylo Dust to the Owens-Illinois Glass Company, Toledo, Ohio by A.J. Vorvald, Saranac Laboratory (Oct. 30, 1948). Among the conclusions of this report was the statement that: “Kaylo, because of its content of an appreciable amount of fibrous chrysotile [a kind of asbestos], is capable of producing asbestosis and should be handled as a hazardous industrial dust.” The report also noted that “very small numbers of fibers are capable of producing asbestosis.”

During the Seventh Saranac Symposium in May, 1952, there was considerable discussion of asbestosis and cancer. Willis Hazard of O-I attended this conference.

In February, 1952, Saranac submitted its final report on its Kaylo research to O-I. This report stated in part that Kaylo was capable of causing a “peribronchiolar fibrosis typical of asbestosis” and that “every precaution should be taken to protect workers against inhaling the dust.” Four copies of this report were enclosed with a letter to W.G. Hazard and a note indicates that another copy went to Dr. Shook, the Corporate Medical Director at O-I.

In 1955, Dr. Schepers, who succeeded Dr. Vorvald at Saranac, published a paper in the Archives of Industrial Health entitled “Effect of Inhaled Commercial Hydrous Calcium Silicate Dust on Animal Tissues.”  This study involved exposing animals to dust from Kaylo although the product was not mentioned by name in the article. It showed that Kaylo dust could cause asbestosis and that it could reactivate tuberculous.  W.G. Hazard of O-I was aware of this article, and that it involved Kaylo dust, and ordered 50 reprints.

O-I’s industrial hygiene library contained many articles on asbestos that were published during or before the time that it manufactured Kaylo. In addition to medical journals, there were articles and abstracts published in the Industrial Hygiene Digest of the Industrial Hygiene Foundation, an organization which an O-I vice president and attorney had helped to organize.

Despite such information in its possession concerning the hazards of Kaylo in particular, and asbestos products in general, O-I did not warn potential users of Kaylo about the risks of exposure. It failed to place warning labels on Kaylo during the time when it manufactured the product. Moreover, one of its advertisements published  in 1952 stated that Kaylo was “nontoxic.”

Tragically, many people who worked with or around Kaylo later developed asbestos-related diseases such as asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma, often decades later. Family members, such as wives and children, who washed their work clothes sometimes developed asbestos related diseases from their second hand exposure.

Thousands of lawsuits have been brought against O-I for asbestos related injuries, and some of the verdicts have been quite large.  In 2013, for instance, a California jury awarded $27.3 million to a woman who developed mesothelioma from the asbestos exposure she suffered as a result of washing her husband’s work clothes.

If you or a loved one has developed an asbestos related disease because of exposure to dust from asbestos products manufactured by companies like Owens-Illinois, call James F. Humphreys & Associates, L.C. at 304-347-5050 for a free consultation.  We may be able to obtain compensation for your injuries, especially if you have suffered from mesothelioma.


The name Kaylo is derived from the “K” factor which relates to heat conductivity. “A low K value means [that] pipe insulation is a low conductor of heat and thus a good insulator.” Harris v. Owens-Corning Fiberglas Corporation, 102 F.3d 1429, 1431 (7th Cir. 1996).

Owens Corning Financial Reorganization, “Asbestos Chronology,” available on line www2.owenscorning.com/finre/asbestos.html.  

Id.

McClure v. Owens Corning Fiberglas Corporation, supra, 720 N.E.2d at 249.

Barry I. Castleman, Asbestos: Medical and Legal Aspects (5th Edition) at 537 ©2011.

 

Greg Ryan, Law360, “Owens-Illinois Hit With $27.3M Jury Verdict In Asbestos Suit,” available on line, https://www.law360.com/articles/448762/owens-illinois-hit-27-3m-jury-verdict-in

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