Dating Owens Glass Bottles

Between 1910 and c. 1990, Owens Bottle Company and Owens-Illinois Glass Company made millions of bottles and jars including familiar ones such as 7-Up and Heinz ketchup, in their four factories in West Virginia. With the exception of returnable-refillable beer and soda bottles, most of this glass was not supposed to survive its single use. Possibly the company thought more of its products because every bottle was marked with a factory and date number on the bottom.

Michael Owens learned glass making in Wheeling. He subsequently invented a series of bottle making machines which his company sold to other bottle makers, besides using them in their own factories. The first automated factory was Owens Bottle Company’s Factory #6 which opened in Charleston in 1918, the first in the world. By the 1960s one machine could make 2500 bottles per hour!

The company had four other factories: #1 in Toledo, #2 in Huntington, #3 in Fairmont and #4 in Clarksburg, When they merged with Illinois Glass Company in 1930 they added 13 more factories to the empire and built 16 more in succeeding years. The factory numbers did not change after the merger.

The Owens-Illinois mark was an “I” within an “O” superimposed on a horizontal diamond. After 1954 the diamond was omitted. The factory number was on the left and the date number was on the right. If one adds the date number to 1930, the total was the date of manufacture. On a diamond-less mark, the number should be added to 1954. The mold number was located under the mark.

The marking system and factory numbers were published in Julian Harrison Toulouse’s Bottle Makers and Their Marks (New York and Toronto: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 1971). Although Toulouse describes the system for Owens-Illinois, he says nothing about the system applying to Owens Bottle Company other than to indicate that their mark was an “O” in a square. I think that the system was begun at Owens because of the number of 2s, 3s, 4, and 6s which we find on Owens glass in the left position.

Unfortunately they sometimes reversed the factory and date positions, so the practice was not very systematic between 1910 and 1929.
The factory dates are as follows:

Owens Bottle Company Owens-Illinois Glass Company
Huntington #2 1919-1929 1930-c.1990
Fairmont #3 1910-1929 1930-post 1980
Clarksburg #4 1912-1929 1930-1935
Charleston #6 1918-1929 1930-1962