A History of
Caldwell Glass Company Inc.
William E. Jonas
In 1912 my grandfather AG Jonas Sr. moved his family to Lenoir, North Carolina to begin a mirror silvering and glass fabrication company to serve the early furniture companies of Lenoir. Broyhill, Bernhardt, and a few others were started by lumbermen owners after they decided to make furniture near the lumber source instead of just shipping raw lumber products to other more industrialized parts of the country. Lenoir Mirror was founded to serve these companies. My father, John K. Jonas the second oldest son born in 1902, worked with the family business until 1919 when he left Lenoir and moved to Miami Florida to work for Pittsburgh Plate Glass as an glass installer and later as a manager. He remained there until the great depression when he returned to Lenoir and the family because of lack of work. He bought a truck and became a contract carrier for the mirror and furniture companies of Lenoir until the end of World War II. Tiring of the life on the road he decided to start another venture involving glass.
Caldwell Paint and Glass
In 1943, John started a small service company in Lenoir called Caldwell Paint and Glass. His primary supplier was Pittsburgh Paint and Glass and he simply sold their product line of paints and glass to the local market. During the post war building boom driven by the returning soldiers, he installed glass for residential wood windows. This opportunity was available because in those days wood windows manufactured in local shops were not factory glazed but delivered to the site without glass. Residential mirrors at that time were often just flat mirror sheets with polished edges and 4 holes drilled in the corners for mounting. Commercial buildings of that era used large expanses of plate glass for displays and he provided and installed those products all over northwestern North Carolina. Around 1945, as the automobile became larger in everyone's life Caldwell Glass bought a set of flat glass automobile patterns and fabricated laminated glass for the replacement industry. In those days there were no glass parts for cars distributed in the area, so having the patterns for those parts allowed the company to cut replacement glass for any car from an inventory of flat laminated glass. The same wet belt sander used for mirrors provided the smooth edges for the auto glass. In those days the glass business was profitable because the business model was to buy raw materials and fabricate it on a local basis to fit the needs of the customer. This would not last forever as newer products were introduced into the market and the distribution side of the business became a more efficient method to produce more complex products. In the early 50's the paint business was sold and the business became Caldwell Glass Inc. By the late 50's Caldwell Glass pretty much stopped cutting flat laminated glass because the use of curved glass parts for the automobile eliminated flat glass use in cars and trucks. Storefront construction continued to become a bigger part of the business because of retail growth and even some use in modern residential construction.
Caldwell Steel Sash
Around 1946, Republic Steel Corporation, fueled by the housing industry and the need for more schools in the US, launched the Truscon line of steel window products. These products were constructed of hot rolled steel shapes and found usage in homes schools and manufacturing plants across the country. These windows used as a basis of design for glass size of 20 x 16, which were putty glazed into the frame after the windows were set in concrete and masonry openings as the structure was built. During this time Truscon also produced a new window product for residential construction. The aluminum awing window became a standard for residential construction and it also required double strength window glass to be cut and installed in the window after it was installed in the building. Caldwell Glass became a distributor of Truscon products and represented the company until Republic Steel dropped the line in the mid 1960's. We did however continue with Republic Steel hollow metal doors and frames and hardware as a supplier to the furniture industry new construction and industrial maintenance in western NC.
Insulating glass was invented in the 1930's but used on a very limited basis in the south until the mid 50's . The first residential uses were the “Picture Window” which generally referred to a large fixed window greater in size than 5' x 4' located between two operable windows. Because of the large expanse of glass these windows were often glazed with insulating glass even if adjacent windows were glazed with single glazing. Since Caldwell Glass was located in the foothills in close proximity to the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, there was an early market for insulating glass in mountain homes. At the 3800 foot level of the eastern continental divided, which was only 20 miles to our west, insulating glass helped maintain the views and comfort of many mountain homes. The basic procedure for this installation was to field build frames on site and provide wood stops front and rear of the glass to hold it in place. Unknowingly this would set up another opportunity for Caldwell Glass at the end of the life cycle of the original installation.
Commercial Glass and Glazing
In 1971, after four years at East Carolina University in the Industrial Technology program I came back to Lenoir to help run the family business. I had worked as a glazier during summers since high school and it just seemed like the thing to do at least for a while, little would I know that 40 years later I would still be in the glass business. The company had done everything you could do related to a small glass business but it had seen many products come and go as the industry evolved. We became involved with Amarlite Aluminum as a supplier in the 60's for aluminum storefront materials and had even done a few curtain wall jobs which were rare in Western North Carolina. We had a good supplier relationship withAppalachian State University in Boone and other institutional organizations in the area. The furniture industry was still growing and there were industrial sales in that area. I started an aggressive bid program focusing on commercial glass. It was a busy time and our sales grew our aluminum storefront business doubled. One thing I have not mentioned before is our staff. I was lucky to retain two people who started with my father and their depth of knowledge helped keep the company going and growing.
The 1974 Computer
The first real advance in technology at Caldwell Glass had to be the fax machine. It allowed us to send and receive orders in a more speedy and accurate medium than the US mail. It also allowed us to get bids to our customers that fully covered our scope of work and gave them more confidence on bid day that we had them covered. I never had any computer background in school but after I bought our second computer accounting system I decided the idle time of the system should be used to help with the bidding process. I started programming in basic on that early CPM system and later moved to a more robust relational database language. The estimating system I developed allowed me to bid five times more work than I could do by the manual method, insured more accuracy and increased our success at obtaining bids. I interfaced that system with a fax modem to allow us to print our quotes on our customer's fax machine. In addition to computerized bookkeeping and bidding systems I dove into Auto cad to allow us to model our storefront frames in real world dimensions prior to building the physical assemblies. This allowed more productive glass ordering and frame fabrication with fewer errors. Business grew accordingly.
Caldwell and Kawneer
Kawneer the premier aluminum storefront and curtain wall system had been distributed in North Carolina by one company with several branches. Market pressures of the early 80's led Kawneer to seek a few additional dealers in North Carolina. I had shown interest in the Kawneer products as early as 1975 but due to their agreements in place I was not able to obtain a dealership. April of 1985 that all changed and Kawneer contacted us to say we had been approved as a Kawneer dealer. This resulted in a much broader product line over our previous suppliers and along with the Kawneer trade mark recognition we were able to increase our market coverage with Kawneer. Partner Pak a full featured estimating package offered to Kawneer dealers became available around 1995 and since I had written my own software I was very interested in this announcement. I reviewed the software almost immediately and visited the Arizona office of DeMchele Group. I met with Don DeMichele and discussed the Partner Pak program and how it differed with the software I was using. It was more full featured and I decided we needed to lease this more improved system. The biggest difference between Partner Pak and the software I wrote was the ability to create CAD elevations of storefront frames and doors from the input to the estimating program. Another feature involved the optimization of stock lengths generated from the same input. Both of these allowed us to become faster in fabrication as well as better in the use of material and quicker to turn around submittal s andorder entry of glass sizes. We no longer needed to wait to build our frames to obtain glass sizes for ordering the glass panels. One advance triggers another often times and in the case of metal optimization we had to upgrade our saw to take advantage of the optimized cut lists, We added an automated stop system that allowed the saw operator to set the cut length without leaving the cutting station. Business was really good through the 90's until around 2007 our sales grew and our jobs were larger and more complex but with the help of Kawneer and other quality vendors we grew and focused on commercial glass. We started in 2005 looking at expanding our market area into the Charlotte area to our south. There we found we could use labor subcontractors and feed them metal materials out of our Lenoir facility ,deliver glass directly from the fabricator to complete jobs outside our normal market area. This also allowed us to grow the business without setting up branch locations which always end up with duplication of staff and expenses. In 2008 Nick Forbing joined to our staff. Nick started in the glass business in his home town but soon went to work for Kawneer as a roving trouble shooter across the Southeast. He moved into management at the regional Charlotte service center where he was working prior to coming to Caldwell Glass. Nick has retained many of his contacts at Kawneer gained in over ten years of working there and has helped us move forward because of his understanding of metal systems and operational policies of Kawneer.
Right now all construction services in North Carolina are going through a tough period due to the overall economic health of the country. We are really no different but we have taken steps in cost cutting approaches to insure we will be positioned for the turn around when it presents itself.