The 1% Economy and the Shattering of the All-American Town

ByBrian Alexander

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Readers` Reviews

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
A well-written book and poignant for those of us who grew up there. It very accurately reflects life there in the 1940s and 50s. I left in 1960, long before all hell broke lose in that lovely little town, and the story leaves a very bad taste in the mouth. Still, if the business could have been somehow restructured with more automation - yes, fewer jobs - the company might have been viable. The unspoken (and unwritten) part of the story is that if a industrial worker can become reasonably proficient at a job in 20 minutes, then that job is a global job and will, ultimately, find its way to the lowest total cost source. (labor, factory OH, cost of inventory in transit and shipping costs, obsolescence risk, etc.) Adding significantly to the problem is that foreign nations have unfettered access to US markets, and their governments often fund the startup.
In the years before I retired, I was in a number of meetings in which cost pressures had us evaluating Asian supply options. One telling part of the math was often repeated: "Capital is free". It meant that some regional entity in Asia would be funding your basic facility and equipment needs. We cannot compete against that....but we had better come up with a solution. Tariffs are problematic, of course, but we should at least make our tariffs match those that US exporters experience when trying to sell US products into specific countries.
The book becomes a bit of a slog for common folk as Alexander makes sure we get all the nitty-gritty details of the various deals. Still, he has done an excellent job of documenting a that has happened many, many times across America's Heartland. It hurts.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
michelle ackland
Well written story of the problems that can arise when corporate greed overtakes a community. Glass House is comprised of well-researched material explaining numerous sides to a very complex and, at the same time, simple issue. Until corporations care as much about people as they do their wallets, the country and our economy has little hope.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
m thomas
I have passed it onto my wife. This is a great explanation of middle America and its de-industrialization. Unbelievable that Icahn, who put the Anchor Glass fCompany into play for hostile takeover, is now a chief advisor to Trump. Much of Lancaster, Ohio's woes trace back to this moment.
Pieces of Me: Rescuing My Kidnapped Daughters :: Canyons of Night (Looking Glass Trilogy #3) (An Arcane Society Novel) :: A Memoir of My Wilderness Childhood - and How I Survived Both :: The Memory Palace: A Memoir :: A True Story of Escape (Ghost No More Series Book 1)
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
An amazingly difficult slog stuffed with confusing minutia. An important story that should have been told clearly, but in this case was written in a style that seemed to intentionally confuse this reader. A stronger editor was needed, as the book was obviously well researched.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
It was hard to decide between 3 for 4 stars for this. The message of the book, and the fact that it focuses on the impact private equity has on rural societies is much needed. The author paints a wonderful picture of the impact political and economical decisions have on small societies via a cross-section of demographics. As an economist myself, I agree with how the author portrays this situation, and applaud him further for taking a non-biased approach (a decidedly very hard task to accomplish). Some disagree, but I did not find this book to have a political message hidden between its lines; one cannot talk about economics and communal conditions without touching on the political decisions that created the realities we face. Private equity, as a business model, places no attention on tangential outcomes or stakeholders, it is focused on maximizing profits. To the small business owner that makes sense: why would someone not choose to make a larger profit? But to this small business owner I remind him: his product is not a commodity in the American market, nor does s/he sit on the top 10 list of employers for that state. When large companies are treated as glorified ATM machines, we lose much of the glue that held communities together. Without focusing on the long-term, how can we advocate for the betterment of community conditions? We are left to fend for ourselves, and this author makes this depressing reality abundantly clear.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
michele calderbank
Book is heavy on drug culture. Also, overly focused on recent political in town. Very good reporting of hostile takeover of Anchor and successor companies. A little snarky in places. Lancaster still has a future.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
ann eckfeldt
As a Lancaster native who left town 60 years ago, I can now understand more clearly how the hometown I knew and the one that exists today are forever joined....for better for for worse. My prayer is the future is kind to Lancaster.
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
I couldn’t get past the fourth chapter. I thought it would be great based on some reviews I’d read in newspapers. I felt like it dragged so badly I just couldn’t justify wasting the time to read it.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
juli kinrich
Forget "Hillbilly Elegy", if you want to understand why Donald Trump is President, why he won in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, read this book. This is a damning indictment on why America is coming unraveled, and why if we keep on our current trajectory without making some big changes, without a new social contract our nation is headed for chaos, for dissolution, for revolution. Thank you Mr. Alexander, for this book.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
morvarid fereidooni
This book was fascinating, and well written, and offers insight into the greed driven world of corporate takeovers. However, in my opinion there was an important omission, that being the support churches can provide through offering strong community. Alexander gives the churches in Lancaster a glancing, sarcastic mention which indicates he did little research on the subject.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
emily butler
This could have been written about my hometown and its decline. Will make you question whether Wall Street cares about Main Street and what is more threatening to American jobs... China or Wall Street and high finance.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
I found Brian's book well researched and written, and appreciate the time he took to examine factors that have contributed to changes in the town. It is my hometown too, and I have quite fond memories of growing up there.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Having grown up in Lancaster, this book is particularly meaningful to me. Alexander is a just few years younger than I am, and even worked at the same Baskin-Robbins store that I did. He paints a vivid picture of what life was like as a child in the Lancaster of the 1960s and 1970s. Many of the people and places he mentions are familiar, and his book brings back fond memories of my youth. The county fair, Mt. Pleasant, the Sherman House, and Hocking Hills all hold a special place in my heart. I lost count of the number of people and families I know who play a role in the story.

It's obvious that Alexander did his homework researching the financial wheeling and dealing that is affecting Anchor-Hocking. In fact, his explanations are so detailed that I doubt many readers can follow all of it. A simple chart or timeline would help. The seedy part of the story, his accounts of the hopelessness in the life of a drug addict, are powerful. However that portion of the book would have just as profound of an impact if it were only half as long.

Now for the not-so-good...

Alexander exaggerates the differences between Lancaster of 50 years ago and today. While Lancaster was indeed a wonderful place to live, we still experienced labor strikes, teacher strikes, and drug use back then. There's no doubt Lancaster is worse today, but those social ills already existed then.

Throughout the book, Alexander recites the familiar themes of the political Left:
1. Small town folk are bigots. They're well-meaning in many cases, but bigots nonetheless.
2. Conservatives are naive and therefore misplace blame for their misfortunes.
3. Religion serves only to distract the masses from their problems.
4. Drug addiction is caused by Milton Friedman and Capitalism.

It's undeniable that Capitalism often causes disruption, including to Anchor-Hocking and Lancaster. Based on my experience of the last 40 years working in a different industry, disruption has been caused more by competition from countries emerging from two world wars than by financial mismanagement. And keep in mind that if not for changes bought about by capitalism, we would still be texting by carrier pigeon.

Alexander portrays private equity firms as the villains of America. Of course the real situation is more complex. I once had a job working for a company that was rescued and transformed by one of the PE firms he mentions in the book. I would not have gotten that job if not for that PE firm.

In conclusion, if you're familiar with Lancaster and can overlook the political slant, I think you would enjoy this book.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
tracy templeton
A very well researched story about the fall of of a once great America company and the decline of the town it helped build. If the author had stopped there, I would have gave this book five stars. Instead he offers his opinion, with scant evidence, that everything was caused by Ronald Reagan. His tortured logic goes like this: Milton Friedman and his free markets led to Ronald Reagan, led to Carl Icahn and Corporate Take-overs, which killed companies, broke unions, and finally led to drugs, gun nuts, racists, and worst of all ... more conservatives. In his view, conservatives "helped wreck small towns" (p.291) and the whole story is another example of "the slow motion terrorism of pirate capitalism" (p.164).

The 100 page story is bloated to over 300 pages with meandering stories of the several drug addicts and old timers left in the town. The first story of an addict's plight was interesting and provided a fuller picture of the town, but by the eighth or ninth example, I lost track.

Overall, I applaud Mr. Alexander for chronicling an important, and rarely written about subject, the decline of traditional industries in America, but I wish he had written the story and let the reader draw their own conclusion rather than bashing me over the head with his anti-free market /liberal dogmas at every turn.
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
haley kitzman
To be fair to the author he did try repeatedly to interview me for this book, but in the end his approach felt predisposed (our families have a history as well) so I declined. So reading a handful of pages disparaging my dad while difficult, was predictable and not as unsettling as I though it would be. My review is on the book, a few of my own realities and the balance a different perspective including to what I considered an out-of-context and mildly slanderous comment, though I have no doubt someone said it to the author. Review: Some of this book is historical, some of it is perception, some rumor / gossip and a lot financial in nature. I thought the financial parts which dominate the second half (when my dad was out of the picture) a little confusing and at times inaccurate, and took away from the real flavor of the book. But overall the first half was not a bad read. It brought back lots of great memories, and some not so great. What a book should do--stimulate emotions. Realities. I moved there after 5th grade (my brother after kindergarten) and except for a few low key visits haven't returned since my parents moved to Florida full-time. To be clear on that note (the book makes it sound like my dad ran away to Florida to live a life of luxury--hardly), my parents owned a modest 3-bedroom ranch house in Florida and for a decade or so and would winter there while spending half the year in Lancaster. Post retirement. They did make the permanent shift in part at the persistent urging of their children. Except for several close friends there was no reason to stay in a town that by the authors own words fail to embrace "interlopers" and "hated them". Surprised they stayed as long as they did. I was a freshman in HS (long before my dad was CEO) when I first noticed some of the mentioned hostility. Older classes at the "small catholic HS" demanding I bring them things from my home because I was rich under threats of violence (my dad was crazy frugal I didn't really grasp this at the time), but also in other pockets of the town some parents that didn't want their children around me and other one offs that made life uncomfortable. In later HS years (1976-1979) property damage, threats, and subtle public chastising were more a norm--by adults and children--to adults and children--and increased as the author points out in the 80's. But this started long before my dad ran Anchor Hocking. I didn't then and don't now consider myself a victim, it was what it was. This was my reality. I was blessed. Until that point though, through 8th grade I lived this book's positive traits and created my own love for Lancaster which I still have. I loved the Fairfield county fair. In 1988 I last went and took my wife and was simply amazed at how cool it still was. Magical even. I ice skated at Rising Park, bought cherry cokes, took dance lessons, ran track against Sherman, all of it. Riding my bike all over the city all the time. I loved it through junior HS. I went back a few times even several years ago and took my youngest daughter. I also have several strong business memories. I remember a multi-page article in the Lancaster Eagle Gazette (where my sister worked "shove" hand "shoving circulars into the Wednesday paper) when after 15 years or so as a resident the reporter asking my dad to defend his interloper status. Which even then I thought odd. He put three children through the school system. He went to Bill Baileys. Ate at Shaw's while his son (me) washed dishes in the back. He played games in our home with a factory-worker best friend. Interloper was an odd moniker but I understand. And I remember the front page of the Columbus paper with my dad in tears as he signed the papers when the Company was sold. I remember these articles because I still have them. Now about my dad. Pretty slim few pages on him in the book--especially considering the pivotal point the author attributes to him. Not a lot of character development and even a perceived antagonist deserves that. No mention of his military service--he enlisted for WWII the day he could following several brothers. No mention of his upbringing--in an large and mostly poor family in Waynesboro, PA., where our family dates back before we were a country. A city that also held his (and still holds my) heart. No mention of his GI bill-funded electrical engineering degree from Brown. No mention of his engineering and sales background at GE for several decades (his only other career) and when hired by Anchor (I still call it that as well). No mention that hiring GE executives was sweeping the nation. My dad was a true geek before there were geeks. Married the first woman he dated. The woman who also worked all the charities and foundations and associations the author mentions as important and charming aspects to Lancaster yet escaped any mention in the book. She sewed the quilt at the Sherman House and delivered meals on wheels weekly. She did cub scouts (as did my dad) and was incredibly involved in the community. Back and forth to football and baseball just like anyone else. Anyway back to pops. He was a nerd--a tinkerer by trade who read everything he could. Computer books, westerns, history. Who wood-worked and fished as favorite hobbies. A mostly solitary family man. Mowed his own grass, planted his own vegetable garden because that's what his parents did to eat (I hated those gardens), and he loved the bartender as much as much as the board member. Maybe more so. Drove all over Fairfield county to watch his son play football. He didn't understand drugs, or cheating, or violent crime. He didn't understand hate. He had to this day what I consider the strongest foundation of ethics of any man I have known. So the comment "he would kick the ball out of the rough" or "cheat at cards" is a little random, but more importantly is so far from the man I knew, and that those around him who really knew and admired him (including strangely one character in the book presented as protagonist to my dad the antagonist, a family friend who to this day is still a hero of mine) that while hard to read initially has little impact on me except to offer this alternative perspective. I didn't and don't know my dad's business skills. He may have been naive in the world of finance. He may have made business mistakes--as have I. I do think he tried to hang on in a world where hanging on didn't win no matter how stout a heart you had (he tried with that friend mentioned above to raise money to prevent Anchor's sale--I know enough business to know that would have been a foolish emotional play). I also have two careers one military and one business. Manufacturing in the 80's? No thank you. He was part of a small executive team that thrived during the years the author acknowledges but lots of others were thriving as well as the author also points out. I can state unequivocally he loved Lancaster. A town so much like the one he grew up in. He avoided large cities and flashy shows of wealth or power (he did not like Carl Ichan one bit). He hated arrogance and bragging. He liked simplicity. Traveled little for choice and was conservatively frugal (like saving pulled nails). I am glad he isn't alive to read this. I am the only one in his family who will. It would only bring to sad closure the failure of the one thing he wanted most for himself and family. A deep relationship with small town America. Which as the author points out was very likely an impossibility from the moment Dad first drove his family car in 1972 or so full of 6 of us up the rolling hills of Marietta Rd. At night with the headlights off. That's a memory I'll also never forget!
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
laura gardner
I worked at Anchor-Hocking as Director of Engineering from 1978 to 1980, and so can offer a glass industry expert’s perspective of the situation immediately before Anchor’s precipitous decline. Their director of engineering had looked to move up in the organization and head-hunted me from DomGlas in Canada, where I was serving as Director of Engineering, and happy in my job. Previous to that I was Chief Engineer of Canning Town Glass in England where the Plant Manger & I doubled the output without increasing the number of employees. I emigrated to Canada when the tax rate in the UK was asymptotic to 93% and there was a purchase tax of 33%. So I have lived and worked under both Socialism and Capitalism.

At Anchor Hocking I was able to build a new 80 tons/day cold top all electric furnace for melting borosilicate glass. Not only did this produce better glass but got over the problem with EPA on stack emissions. Also built a new fully automatic batch plant that weighed the ingredients to 0.1% accuracy, that was important to maintain glass quality. (Unfortunately for Plant 2) This was only the tip of the iceberg of what needed to be done. Anchor Hocking had become a little bloated and was no longer at the cutting edge for technology.
Anchor aimed for the cheapest tableware and so the iron in the batch materials was high, not allowing the clearest glass. The thickness was relatively high as that was easier to make, with the rims burnt off rather than cracked off, resulting in a noticeable bead. Admittedly they were stronger and so reduced breakage in bars and hotels. I preferred the look of quality from the European manufacturers but assumed the sales division knew what they were doing. The French company Durand kept producing novel designs, including toughened tumblers and faceted pressed tumblers that approached hand cut crystal quality. They also developed centrifugal casting machines that make the small glass bowls, smooth on the inside and textured on the outside. Arc/Durand is the largest tableware manufacturer. It has been owned by the Durand family for a century and spends 3% of its earnings on research.

Unlike Presses and IS bottle forming machines that use hot iron molds, the Hartford H28, mentioned in the book, had cold “paste” molds for making things like tumblers. These were lined with a cork paste mix that was sprayed with water so that the glass was kept from the surface by a layer of steam. The molds rotate continuously so preventing the mold seam being visible on the final product. The paste life was only a few hours and so the molds have to be changed without stopping the machine. The actual molds last for decades. The standard H28 had 12 molds, the later models had 18 and were gigantic. Large Ingle and Smith IS bottle forming machines like the ten section double or triple gob versions were just as impressive and I think noisier. The older IS machines had a mechanical timing drum on the back for each section that was adjusted while still rotating. The few modern ones had computer control.
Working conditions were poor compared to the best plants in Europe. But the main problem was for the larger glass container division due to the competition from plastics. It is always more difficult to manage a declining industry.

What happened to Anchor Hocking was probably inevitable. If a company took a long-term view and kept up to date, it then became a prime target of vulture capitalists, who knew that it could be milked for high, short-term profits, even if it later killed the plant. Anchor had kept to a middle road, not spending quite enough on productivity improvements, but keeping the shareholders reasonably happy. Because glass was heavy to ship and fragile, manufacturing was not off-shored, and domestic production survived longer.

The symbiotic relationship of Anchor-Hocking Corporation with the city of Lancaster had many advantages, in those days when Forbes described Lancaster as the ideal small American city. The workers felt loyalty to the company and could afford to live reasonably well. Lancaster was justifiably proud of itself and was a thriving community. The days of being a good corporate citizen in America are more or less over: Milton Friedman's idea that it is only the return to shareholders that matters colors the thinking of CEOs and politicians alike. Friedman was naive in not realizing the long-term result of his edict is disaster. Wages in manufacturing have stagnated here since the1980s because it costs less money to increase profit by squeezing wages than by investing in new equipment and technical innovation. Even Henry Ford realized he should pay his workers enough that they could buy his product. "Shareholder-is-king" has led to an increasing wage gap, to the point that the customer base is more in debt, more in poverty, and more in prison, supported by an ever-decreasing percentage of productive labor.

Pure Socialism doesn’t work (except for heath care where one payer is cheaper and you can’t shop around for the best price when you have a heart attack.) but neither does the completely free market. There has to be some compromise, as in Sweden, which is now rated as a better place to live than America, and which doesn’t have a huge underclass like America. Capitalism is needed for innovation and the formation of new companies. But must capitalism be synonymous with "financial engineering", where the rich few invest nothing in a company and just wring it dry? That is an evil, and should be made illegal.

Back in the 1980s, seeing that the cost of production needed to be reduced by 20% to stay competitive, I proposed making better use of the strength of glass by “dynamic toughening” that would allow the weight of a glass container to be halved and also made it stronger and flexible. It is theoretically possible to make a “glass can” with 0.02” wall thickness you could flex in your hand and bounce off the floor, for less than the cost of a metal one. No glass company was interested, although the beverage company Pepsi cola backed me until making the corporate decision to change to plastics. True to form, leaders in the glass industry all wanted to be a close second, never the first to innovate, and weren’t interested in anything that didn’t show a return in less than a year Where are inventors like Pilkington and Bill Kerr today? Not in the glass business.
I forecast commercial LENR (Low Energy Nuclear Reaction aka cold fusion) will surface inside two years, and AI and robotics will reduce jobs by 50% in twenty years. But as for the human component of our future economy, my guess is that the government will do nothing until there is blood on the streets.

Brian Alexander’s book is important as it shows the real, tragic damage done by American capital greed. He has done the lengthy research necessary to show how these vultures operate. I could have done without the long stories of the various druggies.
The bottom line is that it was a failure of Anchor Hocking’s management to fend off the various attacks, but it was the workers and the city of Lancaster that paid for it. It wouldn’t have happened but for vulture equity companies whose thievery was made legal by corrupt and thoughtless politicians.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
“GLASS HOUSE: THE 1% ECONOMY AND THE SHATTERING OF THE ALL AMERICAN TOWN” is a shocking expose of the exploitation and looting that robbed the citizens of Lancaster Ohio of their livelihood and economic security. Journalist Brian Alexander with historical and corporate research went behind the scenes and studied the destructive greed and evil of corporate piracy and the workers left behind. This once thriving economic region that represented the nostalgic Norman Rockwell era became one blighted by severe poverty and criminal activity that traveled up and down US 33—aka as the “Heroin Highway”.

Anchor Hocking (est.1905) Lancaster, Ohio was the largest manufacturer of glass containers in the US, in 1937 merged with N.Y. based Cap and Closure. By the 1960’s employed over 5,000 workers at several locations, manufacturing baby food jars, beer/liquor bottles, bakeware, glassware etc. However, in 2014, Brian Gossett, 4th generation to work at Anchor Hocking-- earned $21,000 USD per year with no pension or 401K. He lived with his parents. Police officer Eric Brown, retired senior glassmaker worked 30 years at the plant, felt like
a “Trojan” who carried the weight of the community on his shoulders fighting endless crime that plagued Lancaster. Many hoped he could help, counseling wayward family members or friends before it was to late.

Prior to the arrival of the CEO’s that represented the new business model of corporate acquisitions, business shareholders, private equity firms representing a global economy that brokered assorted business/manufacturing investments Anchor Hocking had been bought and sold numerous times since the 1986 Newell take-over. The effects were immediate, with plant closures, lay-offs, and asset stripping. The new corporate owners knew absolutely nothing about plant/equipment maintenance, business management of companies. As companies were bought sold and/or combined with other companies, the only concern was for high profit performance in these company corporate deals, buy-outs or take-overs.
There was a union strike, but it had little effect, shareholders demanded a 15% worker pay cut, certain jobs would be paid less, and steep cuts in retirement benefits. The Regan Administration 198l tax cuts that raised the value of dollar, making Anchor Hocking glassware more expensive and foreign goods cheaper for American buyers. American workers and the unions that represented them suffered a tremendous loss when The NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) went into effect on January 1, 1994. The effects of US factory closures were immediate as the manufacturing base was moved to places like Mexico or China.

From 1987-2004 Anchor Hocking had 6 CEO’s—not one of them lived in Lancaster. Prior to 1987, in the 82 year history of Anchor Hocking all 4 executives lived in Lancaster, supporting community and civic engagement, their children attended public schools. In 1988 voters failed to support tax increases that would have helped fund public schools and road maintenance. In the 1990’s Lancaster school students passed 10 of the 27 requirements. In 2000, 4th and 6th graders failed 9 out of 10 proficiency tests. On February 27, 2003, the Lancaster Board of Education voted to approve a 100% tax exemption to Newell, at a loss of $50,000 USD depriving schoolchildren of desperately needed educational funding.
By 2003, so few workers remained in the Flint Glassware Union, they were unlikely to be changed into office workers manning keyboards in the new economy. Newell sold Anchor Hocking in 2004 for 310K to Fienberg, the founder of Cerberus (est.1992). Newell took the workers 401K retirement investment funds with him! How this was legally allowed remains a mystery. In 2004, Fienberg reportedly paid himself 75K in 2004. Although Cerberus made a sizable profit on Anchor Glass Container IPO within a year the Connelsville plant closed leaving 250 unemployed. Burdened by heavy debt, investor lawsuits, it went bankrupt in 2005. Although Everywhere Global was drowning in 400K debt, paying high interest on loans, forced to lease the distribution center it used to own—this never stopped its CEO’s from collecting generous salaries, stock options, and millions in bonuses. All this while demanding severe pay cuts and loss of benefits for frontline workers.

“Lancaster’s social contract had been smashed into mean little shards by the slow motion terrorism of pirate capitalism”.
Alexander interviewed several people employed/unemployed living in Lancaster. A few hoped to leave Lancaster to avoid the heavy drug culture that seemed to have one way ticket to prison. Family breakdown was common, as some parents used and sold drugs with their children in the family car. As a society we must come up with a better plan to help those in need—and accept that these urgent economic conditions did not occur because of the Chinese, Mexicans, or other minorities. ~ With much appreciation to St. Martin's Press via NetGalley for the DRC for the purpose of review.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
There’s something about this book that reminds of Hal the Computer, who causes havoc in the movie in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Remember the scene where the computer cuts the astronaut loose and leaves him floating out into space? The glass factory of this book is just like Hal the Computer; it sustains the community, then cuts them loose and leaves them floating in The Rust Belt. The town of Lancaster, Ohio, isn’t even floating anymore, but sinking fast! It’s a problem that’s happened all over the USA.

Brian Alexander begins his story of Lancaster as an average town, the kind that a Sinclair Lewis fan might recognize, and how it grew thanks to the factories. Another source of the town’s prosperity was cheap natural gas, which the town took control of the minute it was found. Rather than sell the drilling rights to a robber baron, Lancaster created a chartered corporation to manage the rights and fees and keep prices low. It’s one of the reasons that the Anchor Hocking company put a factory there.

Obviously, we get the problem of competing with cheap imports, and that killed all the Rust Belt towns. Walmart came to town, sold cheap imported glassware, and that cut into Anchor Hocking’s sales base. Changes in beverage packaging were another problem; beer went into cans and soft drinks went into plastic bottles. The author also fingers Carl Icahn and his raid of the company.

I don’t think it’s fair to blame the 1%, however. Fewer people buy fancy glassware anymore, and nobody wants to pay $40 for a set of juice glasses when they could pay $15. Nobody seems to blame the factory owner for not making changes when consumer needs shifted. Nor does anyone blame the small towns for allowing Walmart to build stores in their communities. With the decline of Lancaster’s manufacturing base, other jobs suffered too, like the local hospital. Wages stagnated, benefits were cut, Greatest Generation retired and died, and some Baby Boomers got into drugs. Their kids, the Millennial Generation, are more into drugs than the previous one.

A major issue that the author discusses in the first chapter is the school-to-prison pipeline. It’s stereotyped as a problem for Black boys, but in dominantly white Lancaster, it’s ruining white kids. Take this for example; a high school sophomore with decent grades is accused of cursing out the teacher, sent to an “alternative school” in lieu of suspension, falls in with the wrong crowd, and it’s downhill from there. First comes pot smoking, then pills, then skipping school, more pills, then heroin, and an arrest record. One problem that Lancaster probably has, and which the author doesn’t get into, is that the town council can’t get things done. Back in the day, they had no trouble setting up the town’s gas program, but nowadays they probably can’t come to any agreement over public works. The town could set up a school to train kids in construction trades so they can get jobs elsewhere, and avoid the school suspension problem. They could fess up to their limitations, close up the shop, and move on.

I suspect that this town is an example of the reason that Trump got elected. President Obama and Hillary Clinton both ignored communities like this. They focused on inner-city neighborhoods and not the rural areas and small towns. They missed an opportunity by not doing more to help.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
mary willhite
All authors strive to evoke emotions from their readers. Mr. Alexander has accomplished that feat by evoking both anger and depression from this reader. I was repeatedly angered as I read "Glass House" and learned how something Alexander refers to as "pirate capitalism" absolutely devastated an Ohio town. As a graduate of Ohio University, I traveled through Lancaster many times on the way to and from the main campus. It was a charming town in the '70s not unlike many small industrial cities in the Midwest. To read Mr. Alexander's gripping account of the needless destruction of one of its main employers Anchor Hocking is devastating.
In this day and age, we frequently hear of manufacturing concerns closing due to competition from China and other low-wage countries. However, in this particular case the problem appears to stem more from private equity firms and their desire for a quick buck rather than investing in long range profits through R&D and capital improvements. It is a sad commentary on the American capitalistic system. Unfortunately this process is not limited to Lancaster but has been repeated in many town and cities across the United States.
The only thing that relieves the anger in Glass House is the depression that sets in as you are reading the stories of the drug addicts who apparently roam the town searching for their next fix. Some were skilled craftsmen who once worked at Anchor Hocking and took pride in their work before losing their jobs in a series of purchases and bankruptcies. While Mr. Alexander has chosen to focus on this segment of the population, I'm quite sure there are still many hard working families in Lancaster who strive to hold on to their deteriorating middle class existence. It is that focus that perhaps is missing somewhat in Glass House.
On balance this is a sobering work that is well researched and full of tragic human emotions. One can only hope that readers learn that much of the reason for the demise of manufacturing in America today is due to self-inflicted wounds of a system that rewards that 1 percent while penalizing the remaining 99 percent.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
karla verdin
Glass House

Brian Alexander writes about American culture and won awards for public interest journalism. He grew up in Lancaster Ohio and has a family history in the glass business. Lancaster is about 20 miles southeast from Columbus Ohio. This 2017 book of 320 pages has a ‘Contents’ to its fifteen chapters, ‘Acknowledgments’, ‘Notes’, and ‘Index’. The ‘Preface’ mentions the heroin problem in Lancaster, the decimation of downtown, and the lack of good jobs. Anchor Hocking was once the second largest maker of glass containers, jars, and bottles. [They were replaced by plastic containers made from petroleum.] Sam Solomon was hired to tend a sick business owned by Monomoy Capital Partners (‘Introduction’). Chapter 1 describes the run-down factory (“jerry-rigged”) and its run-down drug users and working class people. ‘Forbes’ magazine featured Lancaster Ohio as an ideal town in November 1947 (Chapter 2).

The discovery of natural gas deposits brought in glass makers and other industry. The Wagner Act improved working conditions and the economy. Brewers and food producers shifted to cans, soda companies to plastic. Imports of cheap glass reduced sales. Owens-Illinois was a giant competitor (Chapter 3). The container division was split off and created debt (p.50). Plant 2 was shut down (p.53). Downtown businesses closed. A strike led to pay cuts (p.55). More employees were fired, the Clarksburg plant was shut down (p.56). Chapter 4 tells of the further looting of the business. Increased unemployment saw decreasing performance in schools and increased use of drugs. Chapter 5 lists the results of the new management. Losses and plant shutdowns occurred, the company did not contribute to the 401K plans (p.86). The loss of businesses and jobs created poverty (Chapter 6). Reagan began to subsidize cell phone service but Obama was blamed (p.103)! The water supply was not fluoridated (p.104).

The workings of Private Equity firms is described (p.111). The temporary shutdown alienated customers (p.134). Modern finance is concerned with making money not products (Chapter 8). The lack of proper maintenance resulted in a fire (Chapter 10). Young people who left town for school rarely returned (p.180). There were no stores for the wealthy (p.182). Payday lenders and car title loan shops preyed on the poor (p.187). They charge very high interest rates (p.188)! Chapter 11 tells about subsidized cell phone service. This allows tracking the person who carries the cell phone (p.193). This chapter has the case histories of drug addicts who deal to support their addictions. What caused this? The leveraged buyout of RJR Nabisco forced its sell-off to pay the interest on the debt; thousands of employees lost their jobs (Chapter 12).

Leveraged buyout shops became “private equity” firms. A regional health system wanted to buy Lancaster’s hospital (p.229). Chapters 13 and 14 tells about the continued decline of Lancaster through some of its residents’ lives. For decades politicians praised small-town values of the real America but supported the policies that helped to destroy small towns (p.291). The author is very wrong to claim poverty precludes morals (p.292). It’s the lack of morals that exacerbates poverty, as shown by his stories about drugs and drinking. They let Big Brother (Big Corporations) control their thinking (advertising and its TV programs). The use of drugs may be an example of “peer pressure” where morals and good advice are lacking. And so this story ends.

I found it hard to pay attention to the many names in this story. The author doesn’t relate these events to the financial looting of that era. Creating poverty resulted in this “Great Recession”. How can Private Equity make millions by their financial schemes? That should be better explained so Congress can do something about it.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
sarah stone
Glass House can be a tough, jumpy, and long read for many people who aren't interested in either business (the coverage can be quite heavy, believe me, and not well-explained at times) or drug addicts (like I care, and they get way too much attention for nothing, bloating the pages even further).

I plowed through it regardless and came to appreciate the story that simultaneously presents a big and a small picture of a Dead Town, USA, in Ohio. Unfortunately, I don't sympathize with many Lancastrians because to be able to survive is to learn how to adapt by retraining and picking up new skills and ultimately move on or move out; those who stay on, hoping for the best no matter what, are often doomed to die in the face of an increasing series of hardships. Of course, there will always be residents with extensive roots proclaiming, "This is my town!" Well, good luck, and see ya.

Another aspect that's problematic about the book is the perceived slant when I was thinking how dangerous it must be to work in these factories, breathing in the toxic chemicals. Perhaps the drug and health issues stem from years of genetic mutation? The author doesn't explore this possibility.

All in all, it's easy to trash Glass House for many reasons, but I think it gives a very interesting perspective from various sides.
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
alyson horn
Extremely wordy complaint about the effect of economic change on a one-company town in Ohio. It is his hometown, so he sees it as somehow special. His nostalgia for his youth is understandable, but it contributes absolutely zero to his 'analysis.' Based on what he says, essentially what happened is that the glassworks in town was successful because in the late 19th century natural gas was plentiful and cheap, so a glassworks was located there. Over time, particularly after international competition became a major factor in the 1970s, the local company was no longer able to sustain the artificially high union wages, and became uncompetitive. It took a long time to die, but it eventually did. Because it was the town's main employer, the town suffered. Tough on the people, but no one's 'fault'. He also blames companies like Walmart for offering low prices. Why not blame the people who 'abandon' the hometown merchants for Walmart because they want to save money? Also, the "1%" in the title is pure hype, and he blames the "1%" as a scapegoat because he knows it will sell books.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
venkat kosuri
Other reviewers have pointed to an annoying and persistent mindset. Mr. Alexander seems to hold facts together in such a way as to construct a coherent narrative. His deviations from chronology don't always make things easier to grasp. My review will focus on one little episode whose omission wouldn't have given up much but which is representative of many others.

Mr. Alexander quite rightly pointed out that Clarence Miller lost his congressional seat in 1990 as a result of redistricting. To hear him relate the story, injected into the narrative of an FTC decision that affected Anchor Hocking, Ohio Republicans abandoned their colleague because he didn't fit the flashy Newt Gingrich mold. Further, that had some impact on the FTC because the victor in the resultant primary was from Springfield and cared little enough about Lancaster to influence their deliberations.

However, one might ask how that relates to a 2002 decision disallowing a buyout of Anchor by rival glass maker Libbey. Ohio Republicans chose Miller's district to be merged because they expected him to retire. When he announced he wanted to run, they tried to alter the redistricting, brought on by loss of two seats in the 1990 census, but Ohio Democrats had already decided which of their seats to give up and said "Nyet". Thus Miller ran against a like-minded Republican in the primary and lost. Second, the winner in that race, Bob McEwen, saw his tenure come to an end in 1993; his later campaigns were unsuccessful. Third, the congressman from Ohio's Sixth District at the time of the 2002 FTC ruling was Ted Strickland from Lucasville, not Springfield. By the time he became governor of Ohio and ran for a Senate seat, even someone loose with facts had to know Strickland was a Democrat. What's odd about all this is that Strickland didn't exhibit abhorrent character traits, such as lured Keith Ellison to smear the GOP using George Wallace as their poster boy. (For real! Google the names.)

A Republican might resent spin that blames her party for all the evils of the world. Someone else might think it's conceit for politicians and their mouthpieces to pretend they control the large forces at play. My assessment is that a book well written in some regards and based on huge effort could have been improved by careful and informed editing. There's a reason conscientious authors heap praises on some of their helpers.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
jenn gilbert
This book is a must-read for all Americans, and will doubtless be listed as one of the most important books of 2017. I first heard about this book from a February 2017 interview on NPR, and was immediately captivated due to my own upbringing in a similar Midwestern manufacturing town. The book is at once a meticulously researched, blow-by-blow account of the rise and fall of Anchor-Hocking, the celebrated glass company that once formed the cornerstone of Lancaster, Ohio, and a collection of disturbing narratives of the lives of ordinary Lancastrians whose own rise and fall have paralleled that of the company. A substantial portion of the book describes how this iconic American mainstay was incrementally whittled apart over the course of decades through a bewildering succession of buyouts, mergers, and bankruptcy, leaving it a mere shell of its former self. These chapters were sometimes challenging to wade through, but I believe that is the very significance of the book. For, like many Americans, I have been blindsided by the complicated functionings of the capitalist economy that have enabled large conglomerates and private equity firms to wield control of huge manufacturing companies, to the utter detriment of the people and communities that gave birth to those companies. No, the book has not given me an academic knowledge of economics, and I would probably have to re-read it to fully appreciate all the nuances described. But it has helped me understand how our American system of capitalism has weakened the very foundations upon which our country was built, all for the financial benefit of a few. And it has provided insight into how the beliefs, traditions, and history of a town, including my town, may conspire to prevent it from making the necessary adaptations required for its very survival. Highly recommended.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
keith blair
I picked up this book because I am interested in understanding how we got to where we are as a country, and because I lived in Lancaster for a year almost 30 years ago and I thought I would be able to relate the history to my favorable experience of the city. Some readers may find some of the corporate history slow going, but Alexander does a good job of tying the cumulative impact of several sequential highly leveraged buyouts to their impacts on the social fabric of the city. And he makes the case that these impacts were quite predictable once we turned predatory finance loose. The workers at the Anchor Hocking plant knew that SOMEbody was making money from their factory work, and it wasn't them.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
ali boutera
The author analyzes the plight of the white working class through an examination of one midwest city that "lost" its chief employer. We're all familiar with the consequences of corporate game playing, leveraged buyouts, downsizing, and international competition, but this microcosmic scrutiny of economic decline is revealing in both its solid investigation and humanizing of the "victims" of post industrial society. I recommend reading in conjuction with Hillbilly Elegy and White Trash for a deeper understanding of the crisis in mid America.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
"He was 23." This line, written for a drug addict who kills himself towards the end of the book, brought home all the digressions, seemingly unrelated conversations, and heady financial segments. By the end of "Glass House," Alexander has you invested in the fate of Lancaster, and that's where he delivers all the emotional beatings: despair and hope, alienation and community, struggle and perserverance. It can be dangerous for an author to be too close to his subject matter, but in this case, it was important that a native write it. The financial wizardry chapters are a little too complex, but I also understand he was trying to document as best he could that Anchor was deliberately driven into the ground, and here's the proof! Also, I don't agree with other reviewers that Alexander was too political. He makes his analysis and leaning known, and barely says another word about it. His liberal bias certainly doesn't prevent him from approaching his people with empathy and respect. In fact, I would say that Alexander has truly honored his troubled hometown by showing the injustice done upon them, being honest about their own faults, and, most of all, insisting on the value of people very much maligned and disparaged in our current political climate.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Very nostalgic and emotional for me since I had lived in Lancaster since 1959 when my dad moved our family there and established his photography studio when I was a child. I worked at Diamond Power for a year and Anchor for twelve years before being let go in 1983. I personally knew a lot of the Anchor people named in this book. I also knew some of the other families named. I left Lancaster soon after. So I was intrigued to learn of the various happenings at Anchor. So very sad even though I wasn't happy at the time. Also, I was amazed in learning about the major changes in Lancaster the city, it's businesses, and citizenry. The author has provided me a real eye opener. His book is one of the few that I could not put down until I finished reading.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
This book gets down to the nitty-gritty of how hostile takeovers and leveraged buyouts work. In between the long passages that deliver this painful education, Mr. Alexander spreads his compassion over the people who were hurt most by the financial shenanigans, and along the way he does some puzzling over why these upstanding townspeople fail to “vote in their own interests,” as one discerning Lancastrian puts it. I wish they would stop terrorizing the rest of us in their despair and would instead let go of their stale illusions and join the human family as we struggle to adapt to a changing, often hostile world. Yes, we sometimes ridicule them because they are destroying our society, but we really want them to come along and join the adventure.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
ann cser
What a wonderful, powerful book! A heartbreaking but true, saying-what-should-be-broadcast-everywhere look at the American economy. And while there are real-life villains aplenty in this book, the names of some that I intend to remember are Carl Icahn, and the founders of Monomoy Capital Partners: Stephen Presser, Daniel Collin, Justin Hillenbrand, and Philip Von Burg; I wouldn't be surprised to hear that any or all have been invited by the White(s Only) House to be advisors. So just be aware, corporate robber barons: some of us are watching & keeping track. And to the reviewers here on the store who found this book to be "typical left-wing, liberal propaganda", don't forget the police officer Alexander interviewed who said that the social contract that kept the American dream running was "gone." When asked by Alexander what happened to the social contract, the officer replied, "Corporate America." (People working in law enforcement unfortunately get called a lot of things, but I don't think that too many get called "typical, left-wing, liberal propagandists.")
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
bonnie feng
I live in Lancaster, OH...was born here. Have spent the majority of my 63 years here. I think that the research of Mr Alexander was spot on. Of course, during the exchanging of ownership of Anchor, the employees worked as they always did...3 different shifts, Overtime whenever they could. There were a few other factories....some were, General Mills, Diamond Power, Farmer Brown's Poultry, and a few others.... But I am putting politics out of the conversation, because this affects everyone, it crosses all lines. Many people seem to be upset with Mr Alexander's description of the drug epidemic here in Lancaster...and it is an epidemic. Of course it is everywhere...but, I was just at a conference this Friday...May 16, 2018 and Lancaster's percentage of opioid use, it is higher than Ohio's average. HIGHER. So Lancaster has a problem we have not found a solution to help yet. The bullying in the Fairfield County School systems? Seniors polled ...over 80% have thought of committing suicide. 22% have committed self mutilation. So....has Mr Alexander misrepresented anything? No...unfortunately he has not. We, as a City and County....need to work together to find a solution to the opioid crisis we are facing...the joblessness we are facing....the crime we are facing. And we will. I personally have been attending meetings after meetings, where this information is being released...where others can help provide some assistance from outside sources, get people involved to care. If there is another book written about Lancaster, Ohio....I would like for it to be about the City that turned itself around. Became a prosperous little City offering an abundance of History....amazing people....and wonderful opportunities.
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
judy yarborough
This could have been a great book. It is the sad yet true tale of a Midwestern town whose heart has been scavenged by greedy corporate men who have no regard for the working class. But the endless trail of names of dopeheads and their stories meanders in and out of storyline. About halfway through, the book is impossible to follow. Data on Anchor Hocking's financial woes is cumbersome and swirling. He jumps around decades and bios of characters---I was exhausted trying to figure out who was who.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
In some places the story was interesting, some places it was a drag. Alexander rambled in sections, but overall--as a Lancasterian--it was interesting. I've never been a fan of the town because of reasons Alexander wrote and of my own personal opinions, but the town really isn't THAT bad. Compared to what it was, yes, it has fallen. Compared to say Detroit, Lancaster is great.
The only thing I really disliked, which brought my rating down, was Alexander's obvious bias over the town. I think information, articles, academic material, etc. is best when the writer leaves it open for the reader to judge and decide.
But I see where he is getting at, can take the Lancastrian out of Lancaster, but can't take Lancaster out of the Lancasterian, and I think he hates that.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
This book tells a very depressing ownership history of a once viable small town corporation attacked by greedy corporate raiders. I grew up in a smaller town near Lancaster and always thought it quite attractive. The author conveyed his fondness and sadness for his hometown.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Great book! I live in Lancaster and grew up here, daughter of an Anchor Hocking executive. It is hard to see all that has happened to this city, but the author has nailed it in a wonderfully bittersweet way. Good job, Brian!
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Gosh, what great book! I live in Ohio where the manufacturing used to be. For those who wonder how and why our manufacturing economy rusted away this book will answer a lot of those questions.

The author grew up in the town in question, Lancaster, OH. It was the Glass Town. They made glass, and lots of it. Then the corporate raiders swooped in. They didn't care about Lancaster. They just wanted to squeeze every drop of profit out of Anchor-Hocking Glass before the next corporate pillagers would come swooping in like hungry vultures.

So sad. So true. Understand. President Trump should read this book. He could learn something. But he won't. He's too busy tweeting to read books I suppose. And so it goes...
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
james peercy
Glad I read Niccoli Donzella's review addressing a journalist's attempt at writting a book. The most sophistcated writing in this book is the inclusion of Kevin Williamson's scathing interpretation of poverty. I do credit the author for including this National Review piece because it provides a very sharp contrast to the all to prevasive sadness depicted in the book. Williamson makes the metaphoric suggestion that getting a uHaul would solve the despair of the individuals in Lancaster. Perhaps keeping a metaphoric uHaul in our back pockets would at the very least remind us that poverty is not a lack of is lack of options.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
It’s a well written book to read for those foreign, as me, who can't understand the phenomenon called Trump. It’s tale of two histories of United States of America. Before the intensification of globalization and after that, and its political repercusions.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
soheil ghassemi
An important read. It doesn't pretend to offer solutions, just lays out the situation for the struggling places in small town America. And until we understand the situation, we won't be able to make good decisions. A lot to think about here and well worth your time.
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
sami gallifrey
This book is vastly in need of editing. It bounces around and is very hard to follow from one paragraph to the next. Good information in it and it could have better focus. I did not feel any connection to the many people in the book.
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
kazim abdu samad
While the facts and statistics of Anchor Hocking are interesting, the author gets totally side tracked with details of the life of a local drug addict. The Book should be titled..."Mark and Friends; the Drug Addicts Life".
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
diah adelia
I liked the sample, but should have dug a bit and found that the author is a journalist. For me, journalists writing about history and specialized areas like economics tend to be out of their depth and rely too much on their emotions and ideological associations. I thought this would be more in the vein of Murray's "Coming Apart," but it quickly devolved into a standard liberal screed on greedy capitalism and saintly unions. The book simply ignores other viewpoints, explanations, and facts, as Joseph Topper's review here suggests. Disappointing.
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
A very vulgar depressing book. Yes Lancaster has a lot of problems and greedy people have taken advantage of this town and working class people. I know there is a big drug problem but I guess I hated to hear their disrespectful language and their vulgar life style. So very sad. I know it wasn't going to be a a uplifting story but I was just interested in learning the stories of the industries and not about the people with drug addictions. I feel everyone has a choice in life and they chose theirs.
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