Goodbye, inventor of CorningWare

Potholder from Corning with classic "Le Romarin" vegetable pattern.

Among my favorite American companies and products are Corning and its CorningWare and Pyrex. I grew up eating off CorningWare plates, white with little green broccoli-like flowers, and eating “scalloped potatoes” from casseroles with the same vegetable pattern you see on the potholder above (which Marko found at a Honolulu garage sale). So I was sad to read in the newspaper today that the inventor of CorningWare, Stanley Donald Stookey, died this Tuesday.

Now, Mr. Stookey lived to a proud age of 99, so I suppose there is no reason to be too sad. But I guess another reason I felt sad was that I had never heard his name. While CorningWare became a household name, Stookey seems to be known only among other glass scientists nowadays.

According to the piece in today’s Honolulu Star Advertiser, from AP writer David Pitt, Stookey invented not just CorningWare but the whole field of glass ceramics in 1952. It sounds like a lucky accident: an oven malfunction caused him to overheat a plate to over 1,600° F. To his surprise, it did not melt, but instead turned white — and refused to break when he accidentally dropped it on the floor. The classic invention-by-accident story that makes inventing sound so easy — but really, accidents only favor the prepared mind, right?

The whole story sounds so mid-century America: science as the hope of not just the future, but of better kitchens, homes, vacuum cleaners. And scientists, not designers or software engineers, as the ones changing our lives — quietly, from within large corporations, of course.

Well, here’s to Stanley Donald Stookey and Corning Ware. Maybe you’ll share your favorite CorningWare memory here, in his memory, or just bake a nice tuna casserole tonight?