Video by Journey Indiana/WTIU
Ferdinand Zimmermann, son of Charles and Anna Zimmermann, was born in France and came to this country in 1880 around the age of 10. The Zimmermann family arrived in Philadelphia and Ferdinand eventually settled in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania with his wife, Anna. Ferdinand and Anna had two children: Victor and Hazel Zimmerman. After arriving in America, Ferdinand secured a job as a glassblower in Pittsburg making punch bowl sets. It is estimated that 80% of this country’s glass was produced in Pittsburg during this period. Ferdinand died in his 20’s after succumbing to tuberculosis.
As a young widow and mother of two, Anna moved to Muncie, Indiana with a group of glassblowers seeking work. In 1902, Victor, son of Ferdinand and Anna, began working in a large glass factory that produced lamp chimney globes. He was just 10 years of age but able to work because of the absence of child labor laws. Anna and her children remained in Muncie until early 1915 when the factory moved to North Vernon, Indiana. Unfortunately, a fire destroyed the North Vernon factory in 1921, which ultimately brought the Zimmerman’s to Corydon, Indiana. Although, glassblowing has been in the Zimmerman pedigree for generations, it was this move to Corydon that established the beginnings of our shop today.
A group of Corydon businessmen met with the North Vernon glass factory employees and encouraged the families to move to Corydon, Indiana. At that time, there was a well-established rail system to transport the lamp chimneys and an abundance of natural gas to fuel the furnaces. In total, eighty families moved from North Vernon to Corydon, Indiana including Anna, Victor and Victor’s new wife, Daisy. Victor and Daisy had three children: Rita, Mary Alice, and Joe Zimmerman. Joe is the father of the current owner, Kerry Zimmerman. Collectively, the families started the Corydon Co-op Enterprise in 1923 on the banks of Little Indian creek just southeast of downtown Corydon. Lamp chimneys were produced at this site, placed into nearby railcars, and shipped across the country and around the world.
The Corydon Co-op lamp chimney factory remained in business until 1949 but, several years earlier, Victor saw the need to use his glassblowing skills for other purposes. Electricity was becoming more available in rural parts of the United States and the demand for lamp chimneys was on the decline. As an astute businessman, Victor began Zimmerman Art Glass in 1942 prior to the closure of the lamp chimney factory and some of the glassblowers from the Corydon Co-op joined Victor in this endeavor. Using the same techniques learned over generations, Zimmerman Art Glass began producing more decorative pieces but, most importantly, creating functional pieces of art. Original pieces of Zimmerman Art Glass included candy dishes, perfume bottles, table lamps, and paperweights; all are still produced today by the current owner, Kerry.
Around 1945, Victor was joined by his son, Joe Zimmerman, who had learned the glassblowing techniques from his father. Joe married Callie Zimmerman and, together, they had three children: Josie, Bart, and Kerry. As employees of the original lamp chimney factory grew older and retired, Joe assumed a leadership role in the business and moved the glass factory about a half mile down Valley Road. Joe officially took over in 1961 and expanded the business through the creation of more contemporary items and the development of additional glassblowing techniques.
In the 80’s, Joe was joined by his sons Bart and Kerry. Both sons worked with their father until his death in 1986 and, like their father, they continued to add modern items to the list of traditional items using innovative glass blowing techniques and adding new equipment. Under Bart and Kerry’s direction, the business continued to grow, largely, due to an increase in bus tours to their business from around the country. In 2008, Kerry assumed full responsibility for the business following Bart’s untimely death due to a boating accident.
Today, Kerry continues the glassblowing legacies of his father, grandfather, and great grandfather at Zimmerman Art Glass. In 2015 Kerry and his wife, Michele, purchased a Sinclair gas station and moved their business to the historic arts district of downtown Corydon, Indiana where the business resides today. Kerry has increased the inventory to meet the decorating preferences of today’s customer; yet, the equipment, tools and techniques largely remain the same. So does the mission of Zimmerman Art Glass and that is to produce functional pieces of art.
Kerry and Michele have four children, Brian, Alex, Gretchen, and Heidi and five incredible grandchildren, Jack, Layla, Bella, Baer, and Beau. Alex and Brian have full-time positions outside of the glass factory but have learned the glass blowing techniques from their father.
We are proud to say that Zimmerman Art Glass is the second oldest family run studio glass factory in the United States and has been in business for 78 years. Thank you for taking the time to read our story and allowing our family to share a bit of our history with you.
The Zimmerman Family