Very few people would be able to name New York State’s third most visited attraction. After Manhattan and Niagara Falls, more people travel to the small upstate town of Corning, than anywhere else in the state.
Corning is certainly a convenient stopping off point between New York City and Buffalo, but that does not explain why this city of 12,000 draws 400,000 visitors a year.
They come to see the Corning Museum of Glass. CMoG, as it is familiarly called, consists of an expanding campus of buildings dedicated to the history, technology, science and art of a single material – glass. In 1951 Corning Glass Works (now Corning Incorporated) chose to mark the company’s 100th anniversary by giving the world a modest museum. Two thousand objects were housed in about as many square feet along with a staff of two and a small reference library.
CMoG suffered serious damage during Hurricane Agnes, which in 1972 caused devastating flooding in New York and Pennsylvania. Every cloud has a silver lining, and this disaster prompted the first major expansion, the silver starfish like building designed by Gunnar Birkerts, where the priceless collection of historical glass is safely housed above the flood plain.
Visitors spend an average of four hours at the Museum. During that time they can explore 3,500 years of glass, including a cut-glass baseball bat, a 100-lb paperweight and a 2,000 year old, 1” high portrait of the Pharaoh Amenhotep.
They can watch demonstrations of working with hot glass at the furnace or the torch. They can make their own piece of glass. They can discover how glass breaks, and how pulses of light can be sent thousands of miles through optical fiber. They can consult every publication known to man related to the topic of glass. They can learn about great technical innovations which use glass: light bulbs, television tubes, windows and heat shields for the Space Shuttle, and Pyrex, all developed by the company that still supports this wonderful museum.