Since its opening in 1951, The Corning Museum of Glass has inspired people to see glass in a new light. The Museum has grown exponentially over the years. Its history is a story of innovation, perseverance and immense community and corporate support. Today, the Museum’s scholarship and outreach is felt around the world.
Over Sixty Years of Glass
Conceived of as an educational institution and founded in 1951 by Corning Glass Works (now Corning Incorporated), the Museum has never been a showcase for the company or its products, but rather exists as a non-profit institution that preserves and expands the world's understanding of glass.
The original concept of The Corning Museum of Glass was developed by Arthur A. Houghton, Jr. (1906-1990) along with his cousin Amory Houghton. Arthur Houghton developed the Museum's charter, composed the first board of trustees, and oversaw the Museum's first acquisitions, first hires and first exhibitions. He even developed the Museum's long-standing hotspot logo.
When the Museum opened to the public in 1951, it contained a significant collection of glass and glass-related books and documents: there were 2,000 objects, five staff members, and a research library, housed in a low, glass-walled building designed by Harrison & Abramovitz. This building was part of the for-profit Corning Glass Center complex, which also included an auditorium for the community, a Hall of Science showcasing the technology of glass, and a windowed wall behind which guests could watch glassworking in the Steuben factory.
Under its first director, Thomas S. Buechner, the Museum continued to assemble a comprehensive collection of glass, and its library to acquire rare books related to the history of glassmaking. When Buechner accepted the directorship of the Brooklyn Museum, he was succeeded by Paul Perrot, who continued the expansion of the collection and the staff.
In June of 1972, disaster struck as tropical storm Agnes emptied a week's worth of rain into the surrounding Chemung River Valley. The river overflowed its banks and poured five feet of floodwater into the Museum. When the waters receded, staff members found glass objects tumbled in their cases and crusted with mud, the library's books swollen with water. At the time, Buechner described the flood as "possibly the greatest single catastrophe borne by an American museum."
Museum staff members were faced with the tremendous task of restoration: every glass object had to be meticulously cleaned and restored, while the library's contents had to be cleaned and dried page by page, even before being assessed for rebinding, restoration, or replacement. Conservators from many other museums came to Corning to help. With the aid of a large refrigerator truck, library staff freeze-dried documents until they could be cleaned. On August 1, 1972, the Museum reopened with restoration work still underway. Learn more in The Flood of '72: Community, Collections, and Conservation.
Growth and Renovations
By 1978, the Museum had outgrown its space. Gunnar Birkerts designed a new addition, creating a flowing series of galleries with the library at their core, linked to the old building via light-filled, windowed ramps. With memories of tropical storm Agnes still fresh, the new galleries were raised high above flood level on concrete pillars. The new Museum opened to the public on May 28, 1980, exactly 29 years after its first opening.
In 1984, the Museum library was renamed the Leonard S. and Juliette K. Rakow Library in honor of Dr. and Mrs. Rakow, who gave generously to the library as well as bequeathing part of their glass collection to the Museum and endowing research grants and commissions.
By the early 1990's, The Corning Museum of Glass had once more outgrown its exhibition space, and increasing visitation put a strain on guest facilities. In 1996, the Museum embarked upon the first phase of a planned five-year, $65 million transformation. Under the directorship of Dr. David Whitehouse, the first element to be added was The Studio. This state-of-the-art teaching facility for glassblowing and coldworking opened for classes in 1996.
Architects Smith-Miller + Hawkinson designed an addition to the main Museum building, using glass wherever possible to convey the beauty and elegance of the material in the building itself. The Museum's renovation was completed in 2001, and included a new Sculpture Gallery (now the Contemporary Glass Gallery), Hot Glass Show demonstration stage, and a hands-on Innovation Center with exhibitions designed by Ralph Appelbaum Associates. A redesigned 18,000 square-foot retail space, one of the largest Museum shops in the country, along with a large auditorium, filled the entire first floor of the Museum. The Rakow Library was relocated to spacious new quarters across the Museum campus.
More than 60 years later, the Museum has grown into a collecting, exhibiting, teaching, and research facility. The Corning Museum of Glass is now home to the world's largest collection of glass, containing over 50,000 objects representing 3,500 years of glass history. The Museum and Library actively acquire materials, curate special exhibitions and conduct extensive research. The renovated facilities annually welcome almost 460,000 visitors from around the globe.
Over the past decade, the Museum’s collection, programs, and global impact have grown significantly. As a result, the Museum’s facilities have been increasingly taxed to provide the appropriate space and services necessary to meet the demands of these initiatives and future goals. At the beginning of 2012, the Museum announced a $64 million expansion project, designed by Thomas Phifer, to expand contemporary gallery and Hot Glass Demo space. The new Contemporary Art + Design Wing opened to the public on March 20, 2015.